Purple flags reading "St. Thomas Tommies" flap in the wind as fans tailgate on south campus before the Tommie Johnnie football game September 27, 2014.

Athletics Addresses DEI with New Committees and Initiative

The Athletic Department is advancing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts with two new committees and an initiative titled “Shed a Little Light.” The two committees are Athletics Alliance 4 Change (AA4C) and the SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) Racial Justice Workgroup.

AA4C is composed of athletics coaches and staff who are instrumental in building a sustainable structure to bring about change. The committee is grounded in four key pillars: education, exposure, empathy and equity. The committee will work to promote awareness and use these four pillars to bring about meaningful progress in regard to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The SAAC Racial Justice Workgroup is populated by Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members who represent the student-athlete voice on diversity, equity and inclusion. This group sets the foundation for student-athlete participation and engagement.

“We formed the Racial Justice Workgroup this summer in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. We felt that we needed to do more within our St. Thomas community to address issues of racial injustice, and we began to brainstorm ideas that included both short and long-term visions,” Kaia Porter ’21 women’s basketball player and co-president of SAAC, said. “First, we wanted to make sure we were explicitly speaking out against racism, hate or injustice of any kind on our campus. Second, we started working to implement long-term initiatives that address the deeper work of education, self-reflection and engagement in social justice efforts. Our main goal is to get our student-athletes to step into the conversation more directly and become more involved in ensuring our campus is an inclusive and accepting space for everyone."

Together, AA4C and the SAAC Racial Justice Workgroup already have worked to engage staff and student-athletes in numerous initiatives.

St. Thomas Athletic Department staff has discussed systemic racism, the topic of generational inequities, national anthem protests, the tragic killing of George Floyd and the response of protests around the country. The department also invited Dr. Yohuru Williams, a renowned expert in the field and the founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative at St. Thomas, to join an all-staff meeting and lead a discussion on the history of racism in America.

Tommie student-athletes have participated in discussions regarding systemic racism, have participated in a voter registration initiative to assure the campus community is registered to vote, and begun an open dialogue with staff and coaches to bring about meaningful change. In addition, all teams will not participate in any athletically-related activities on Election Day to ensure all student-athletes, coaches and staff have the opportunity to vote.

Shed a Little Light

They have also driven the development of a new initiative to promote positive change: Shed a Little Light.

The Shed a Little Light initiative encourages all to do their part in making positive change. Inspired by the James Taylor song "Shed a Little Light," it recognizes that we are all human beings bound together on this earth by ties of hope and love. Though the task of making impactful change is complex and can be daunting, Shed a Little Light challenges everyone to do just that: Shed a little light in the darkness. As each of us does our part, that light will spread throughout the St. Thomas community, the state, country and world.

These committees will be charged with leading monthly brown bag luncheons for student-athletes and staff, inviting speakers from different cultures and backgrounds to discuss their unique experiences and perspectives, develop a web resource page for student-athletes and staff, and distribute a quarterly newsletter, among other key initiatives and activations. The St. Thomas Athletic Department is committed to creating a culture of inclusion.

"Tommie Athletics is poised to not only build a framework that will allow for critical dialogue around social injustice and racial inequities, but also advance action to positively influence and change cultural norms historically found in our communities," said Vice President, Director of Athletics Phil Esten. "I'm proud of our coaches, staff and student-athletes for their proactive approach to these initiatives as they lean into making change happen."

These actions have started to build a framework that will continue into the future. Diversity, equity and inclusion has been integrated into the intercollegiate athletics strategic plan, and will be included in all program and staff annual evaluations. Additionally, Senior Associate Athletic Director, Student-Athlete Welfare and Development Jemal Griffin is now serving in a newly created capacity of DEI coordinator in Athletics.

"Throughout the process, it was important to us in Intercollegiate Athletics that we were aligned on all levels in our desire to work to combat social injustice," stated Griffin. "The university, the Athletic Department and our students have come together to execute positive outcomes for the common good."