By Domenic Fraboni
At times, diversity can be a difficult area to be “successful” in. This can be especially true when trying to represent all the different aspects of diversity in a specific committee, staff, team, or any other group. The complexity of this topic webs out even further when including those non-superficial definitions of diversity: ethnicity, religion, orientation, social, family type, education, and the list could continue on. It may seem to be an obvious statement, but if we have diversity of any sort, we will only be able to better understand, collaborate upon, and ultimately solve the issues that face us every day. With this being said, why do so many organizations fall short when it comes to fully representing the diverse population that we comprise? This was a topic that was discussed heavily at the 2015 NCAA Convention that was held this past January in Washington D.C. As a member of the Division III (DIII) Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, I was able to observe first hand the issues, challenges, and proposed solutions that Division III faces in fully representing our diverse community.
The Division III Philosophy emphasizes that member institutions should “seek to establish and maintain an environment that values cultural diversity and gender equity among their student-athletes and athletics staff.” However, at the DIII Issues Forum that was held during the NCAA Convention, where representatives from every membership institution are present, the lack of diversity among the student-athlete population was among the top issues discussed. A graphic was shown to the membership that explained that minority groups comprised an average of 16 to 22 percent of the student athlete population. This statistic did not sound too alarming until we learned that minority groups account for 37 to 44 percent of the general student body! For the next twenty minutes, the membership was tasked with answering two key questions: what could be causing this difference between the student body and student-athlete populations, and how can we remedy this inconsistency?
The responses to these questions all seemed to point in the same direction. Many of the membership representatives talked about struggling to interest prospective student-athletes in their program because they did not have the diversity they wanted reflected in their athletic administration and staff. After learning this I went and did a little research of my own. Of the head coaches in Division III, depending on the sport, anywhere from zero to ten percent are made up of under represented populations. Minorities only make up 5.4% of the 458 athletic directors in the division. Finally, only five of the 110 conference presidents and conference commissioners represent minority populations. After discovering these staggering statistics, I wondered: how does our division even pray to reach a higher level of student-athlete diversity without valuing that same diversity higher up the chain. I now whole-heartedly agree with the memberships view that we need to view diversity in DIII from the top down.
Now comes the next question of “how can we do this?” The discussion among the DIII membership fostered great conversation about how to create a pipeline to get good candidates from under-represented populations into administrative positions. Several of these ideas align closely with Division II’s Best Hiring Practices: Partnering for a Better Tomorrow . Initial discussion revolved around not just being able to find candidates but being able to find qualified, prepared candidates. Many suggestions revolved around recruiting candidates beyond paper. This strategy includes partnering with associations such as the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators or the Advocates for Athletic Equity (formerly the Black Coaches and Administrators) to get in contact with quality candidates. Further suggestions included encouraging minority candidates at one’s own institution, whether they are successful student-athletes, interns, head coaches, or administrators already, to stride for positions further up the ladder in athletics. For these potential candidates, the NCAA offers programs, such as the Pathway Program, Achieving Coaching Excellence (ACE) Program, or Leadership Institute. These programs are meant to help women and minority candidates to further develop their skills and knowledge in athletic coaching or administration.
With all of the feasible strategies proposed to rectify the disparity in the DIII student-athlete pool, I understand that it still may be a process to achieve the representative diversity that the division desires. There is now, however, one thing I do understand. Sometimes diversity needs to be looked at from the top down.
Domenic graduated from Concordia College this past May and is now a first year student in the Mayo School of Health Sciences Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program. Domenic has been involved with the NCAA Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee since July of 2013 as the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Upper Midwest Athletic Conference representative. He would like to offer a huge thank you to the NCAA for allowing student-athletes to have such a huge voice in their organization. He also thanks the liaisons specific to his committee, Jay Jones, Brynna Barnhart, and Jean Orr, for helping to introduce everyone and educating them on many of the issues that Division III faces. His final thank you goes out to Eric Hartung for helping him find the statistics on diversity in Division III.