Home Madison UW’s Blanford leads new org for diversity & inclusion in college sports

UW’s Blanford leads new org for diversity & inclusion in college sports


Diversity and inclusion directors are still a relatively new thing in college athletic departments. In fact, University of Wisconsin Athletics Department Director of Inclusion and Engagement Sheridan Blanford estimates there are only about 30 people who do her job in the United States. UW-Madison was one of the first in the nation to create the position when they hired Blanford three years ago.

Still, the few people doing that work across the country last year decided they wanted to connect and work together in a formal way, and formed what Blanford calls a “small but mighty” organization.

Blanford co-founded Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Council of Excellence — pronounced dice — with her counterpart at Nebraska, DaWon Baker, last summer. The group formally launched publicly yesterday.

“Up to this point, it’s a very small handful of full time, professional diversity and inclusion positions within sports. So, I brought an idea to my colleague at Nebraska, DaWon Baker, and was just like, ‘Hey, we have an opportunity to create a space,’” Blanford said in an interview. “We were among the few, and with that came a lot of exciting challenges ahead to really figure out what it means to combine diversity inclusion with sport, but in that same vein, we lacked the community and the support with people doing the same work as us. So we took it upon ourselves to establish this group … and the premise is to just truly get all folks who are doing this work, particularly in the realm of sports, in one space so that we’re able to learn and engage with one another, share best practices and then further the work on a larger scale toward inclusive excellence across sports.”

The inaugural board of directors includes Blanford, Baker, Nick Sailor of Providence College, Prince Moody of Ohio State and Thomas Harris of the University of Arizona.

Currently, DIECE has 13 members, but that could grow very quickly. The NCAA has recently mandated that every member institution must have at least one Athletics Diversity and Inclusion Designation (ADID) — a person on staff dedicated to managing diversity, equity and inclusion, whether or not it’s a full-time position. DIECE intends to invite all of those people to join.

“It is very important for the ADID to be prepared to execute in this role. Although it is not a full-time role for every ADID, we know that these individuals will be committed to the advancement of this work, but may not know where to start,” Baker said in a press release. “We all must start somewhere, so we wanted to invite ADID’s in and provide a space for them to converse, ask questions, and share resources with other DEI officers in sport. If we want to collectively move this role, designation, and this work forward, our collective success is vital.”

Blanford said it’s important for athletic departments to commit to diversity and inclusion because athletic departments are unique among university communities.

“I say that sport is arguably one of the only spaces where inclusion does exist, because you have all these different people from all these different identities and backgrounds and experiences coming together to work toward a common goal, that I think is really beautiful and it has an incredible platform to promote social change,” she said. “I always say that athletics is not immune to what is going on in the rest of the world, and we have a stake in that as well, meaning that the system of college athletics fits into a lot of challenges and systems that we’re facing in our society.”

Blanford said an important part of her job has been assisting in the development of a strategic plan to put the department’s stated commitment to diversity and inclusion into practice.

“We have to create a baseline understanding of where we’re at and where we need to go in order to serve all of our stakeholders,” she said, adding that the department has been working on that plan for a couple of years. “It essentially engages to create actionable and measurable inclusion, not just to put something out … There’s a lot of great statements, but what does that mean? How are you actually going to attain that? We have a plan in place to actually start to address some of the issues and challenges related to diversity equity and inclusion.”

That’s the same kind of work that the rapidly-growing number of potential DIECE members will all be engaged in, and Blanford hopes DIECE can help support that work through sharing of best practices, networking and just offering advice.

According to a press release, DIECE intends to build a community that will one day be officially recognized by the NCAA and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA). Blanford said UW athletics administrators have been supportive so far.

DIECE launched its website and Twitter account this week. The organization will also host a Community Conversation Webinar to introduce its board of directors and provide details about its vision and structure, including an opportunity for questions, at 5 pm Central Time on Wednesday, August 12. It is free and open to the public. Registration is open now at https://unl.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_k3u_qx4jQZK7_fEu2_YKYg.