With issues of race relations and social justice rising to the forefront of national and international consciousness, Northern Illinois University announced on Friday the athletic department has enacted a social justice education plan for student-athletes, coaches and staff based on information, conversation and action.
Developed under the leadership of Associate Vice-President and Director of Athletics Sean T. Frazier and Senior Associate Athletic Director Courtney Vinson, who leads the department’s Diversity Integration Group (DIG), the plan has already brought together African American student-athletes, a focus group of student-athlete leaders and an all-staff virtual “town hall” of NIU Athletics coaches and staff on the topics of social justice and race relations.
“We have been moving forward in the diversity and inclusion conversation for a long time as both an institution and as an athletic department,” Frazier said. “It is extremely important as we continue to demonstrate our leadership in this area that we make statements that are backed up with action.”
Future sessions include a virtual meeting of all student-athletes led by NIU professors and individual team counseling sessions on the topic of race relations. The plan is available to view online.
Inspired by the initial conversations, NIU student-athletes devised and created a video with the theme of #StartTheConversation that was released on social media this week. The focus group continues to meet to discuss future courses of action.
Frazier, whose career includes a history of work on issues of diversity and race relations, recognizes the importance of today’s date to publicly announce this plan while looking forward to working with internal Huskie athletic groups, as well as the many experts and resources available on NIU’s campus and beyond, to advance understanding and cooperation.
“The announcement of this plan on 'Juneteenth’ - a holiday for me and for many celebrated on the 19th of June to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States – is intentional,” said Frazier. “Although we have made significant strides in championing these complex issues of diversity, inclusion and equity there is so much more hard work to do.”
NIU Athletics maintains a close relationship with the university’s Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI) and will continue to work with that office to train and educate staff. The Huskies will create “safe spaces” for African American student-athletes. Additional members, including current student-athletes, will be invited to join DIG.
The Huskies’ social justice and race relations plan seeks to create educational opportunities, support dialogue and encourage voting by NIU student-athletes, coaches and staff.
Vinson has been encouraged by the commitment she has seen from NIU student-athletes toward this effort.
“The most exciting part about doing this critically important work is seeing our student-athletes’ eyes light up when they realize they have the ability to affect change in a positive way,” said Vinson. “Our student-athlete population represents all races and ethnicities. To watch them come together as they find and use their voices to fight against systemic racism, oppression and police brutality; it makes me hopeful that the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had in 1963 will happen in my lifetime.”
NIU is one of two Football Bowl Subdivision universities whose athletic director, head football coach and head men’s basketball coach are African American. Volleyball coach Ray Gooden is one of just 30 African Americans to lead a Division I women’s volleyball program.In 2016, NIU received the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA) Diversity and Inclusion Award, which recognized and celebrated the initiatives, policies and practices of NIU Athletics in embracing diversity and inclusion