Note: The following appears in the The Citadel gameday football program.
Several highly publicized instances of racial injustice this summer gave us another powerful reminder of the need to continue to stand together in unity and demand equality and social justice. The confrontation of Clemson’s history, our society’s calls for help and the university’s strategic direction all converged this summer in the local community.
Clemson student-athletes and staff members have been among the most vocal in calls for change. Many of the young men and women who represent Clemson have seized an opportunity to be heard on these issues, and the timing is important.
In June, the Clemson Board of Trustees recommended a name change to Clemson’s honors college, as well as made a call to the state legislature to consider a name change for Tillman Hall, back to its former name, “Old Main.”
Just days later, student-athletes Darien Rencher, Cornell Powell, Mike Jones, Jr. and Trevor Lawrence led “A March for Change,” a peaceful demonstration on Bowman Field, also the location of the program’s first home football games in the late 1800s. The event drew more than 3,000 people and served as a gathering point for all of Clemson’s athletic programs.
“I feel like we can make a change in our own community,” said Jones.
“I believe with all my heart that God stopped the world in 2020 so that we would have perfect vision and clearly see the social and racial injustices and the changes that need to occur in our society,” said Head Coach Dabo Swinney.
The demonstration is the tip of the iceberg of some of the actions that have been ongoing behind the scenes campuswide. Clemson University has tabbed Inclusive Excellence as a key part of the 2020Forward plan, which outlines the long-term goals for the campus moving forward. Strategic planning is overseen by the Clemson University Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
Prior to this summer’s events, the athletic department had been working on a Diversity & Inclusion roadmap in consultation with Assistant Vice President for Strategic Diversity Leadership Altheia Richardson.
Richardson has worked with athletics to develop a plan in six main strategic priorities…Climate & Infrastructure, Education & Training, Leadership Support & Development, Recruitment & Retention, Research & Scholarship and Strategic Partnerships. Some of the initiatives are immediate and straightforward, while others will be rolled out and measured over the next several years.
One of the first things athletics did was create the mission statement.
Clemson athletics seeks to provide a safe, equitable and inclusive environment for all, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, spirituality, socioeconomic background, disability or any other defining characteristic. We believe a diverse, welcoming community is core to our identity and creates better ideas, policy and actions.
Furthermore, we seek to establish and maintain an inclusive culture that fosters equitable participation for student-athletes and career opportunities for coaches and administrators from diverse backgrounds.
Discrimination of any kind or intolerance of any level has no place within Clemson athletics, whether on the field, in the classroom, in the locker room or in the stands.
Another piece of the strategic plan is helping student-athletes and staff members to better understand Clemson’s history. It is often said that you can’t know where you’re going unless you understand where you’ve been.
Dr. Rhondda Thomas is a professor of English at Clemson and has for more than 13 years studied and chronicled the history of African-Americans at Clemson University. She began a program, Call My Name, which “documents and shares the stories of African-Americans who contributed to the development of Clemson University from 1825 to the present.”
In addition to her work on campus, Dr. Thomas has led several lectures, discussions and calls with Clemson athletic staff members and student-athletes. Her perspective and partnership has been welcomed within athletics and has served as a valuable guiding educational program as we seek better understanding of our past.
The student-athlete development group has been a driver of student-athlete initiatives. They have engaged with SAAC, Tigers Unite and other internal groups to not only create a more inclusive environment, but also give a defined space for student-athletes to be heard.
Student-athlete expression is front and center and will be represented on the field and on the courts. Clemson is presently working on applications for uniforms and playing surfaces, as well as throughout our publications and social media accounts. A recent web series on ClemsonTigers.com called “Voices” is an example that gives all members within Clemson’s department a platform to have their perspective heard.
This is also a student group working to bring a “UNITY.” shirt to the marketplace, with proceeds benefiting the charity of the student-athletes’ choice.
The ACC’s Committee for Racial & Social Justice (CORE – Champions of Racial Equity) also announced three initiatives in conjunction with its member institutions.
This includes mandatory diversity and inclusion training for student-athletes, athletic department staff members and conference staff members, the creation of an ACC unity symbol as a visual representation of solidarity among the ACC’s 15 institutions and an ACC unity statement to be read prior to every league contest.
All of these little things add up to larger change. It is up to each individual to keep the conversations going and learn more about one another and diversify perspectives.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion continues to be at the forefront on an individual, group, university, conference and national level, and will be for a long time.
Many of these initiatives are about making sure underrepresented populations are heard. Clemson University continues to grow, and the athletic department is doing so along with it.