As a product of the private education system, I’ve suffered through innumerable talks on “diversity and inclusion.” Most have been subpar, and the presentation given to Emory student-athletes by NFL player Kelvin Beachum last Friday was undoubtedly subpar.
The talk, delivered in Cox Ballroom, began with a cliched, slightly embarrassing introduction by Emory Director of Athletics Dr. Michael Vienna. The introduction was like many I’ve heard before. Vienna spent the majority of his time boasting about how “privileged” Emory students are because of our place at such an impressive academic institution and our immersion in the amazingly diverse community on campus.
In struggling to avoid saying anything politically incorrect or offensive, Vienna essentially said nothing. He was clearly uncomfortable connecting diversity and inclusion to Emory’s athletic community. As the Director of Athletics, Vienna’s inability to admit weakness or actively address issues of inequality should be a red flag. I fervently hoped that the talk itself would be better. I was wrong.
In speaking about diversity and inclusion, presenters usually choose one of two approaches: personal narrative or factual argument. Beachum did little of either. He began with a twenty-minute meet-the-celebrity schtick, filled with lots of high-fiving, calling people out and unfunny, ego-fueled jokes with cameraman and sound crew in tow. His PowerPoint consisted mainly of borrowed video footage, including a Danish ad titled “All That We Share” which went viral earlier this year, and the stock photos that come up when you Google “diversity and inclusion.”
Beachum’s strongest argument in favor of inclusivity was the earth-shattering suggestion that being excluded feels bad, citing the scene from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride where the animal kingdom shuns and exiles Scar’s son. While I usually support any Disney-related content by default, one has to ask: is this really the deepest level of discussion in which Emory students are capable of engaging?
The only other message from Beachum’s talk addressed the benefits of inclusion and diversity in the workforce. With approximately 25 percent of undergraduates transitioning directly into the workforce where employers are valuing diversity more than ever, Emory students will need tangible interpersonal skills and the capacity to unite and work with a diverse range of people. Although he managed to repeatedly assure the audience of his own corporate successes, Beachum completely failed to address what these skills are or how students can build them.
For the rest of the presentation, audience members filled out a work packet. The final page in the packet asked students to identify two concrete ways they could be more inclusive in their lives at Emory. Beachum laughingly called on freshmen to come to the front of the room and share their responses for the amusement of their teammates. While not an overtly offensive gimmick, the more worrying aspect was the lack of substance in students’ responses. Most shared something along the lines of “be more accepting.”
This trivialization of inclusivity and the tangible ways in which students are discriminated against on college campuses was appalling, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the lack of diversity displayed in Division III athletics. Admittedly, race is only one aspect of identity demographics, but the lack of such diversity in coaching and administrative staff at Emory, and among our athletic peer institutions, is telling. According to NCAA annual demographic data covering the past four years, there currently are no non-white athletic directors in the the University Athletic Conference, and across all teams in the eight schools, only six head coaches identified as non-white, two of whom–Penny Siqueiros of Women’s Softball and Christy Thomaskutty of Women’s Basketball– coach at Emory. How can student-athletes be expected to think critically about the role of inclusivity in leadership when the sports culture that surrounds them is so unprepared to do the same?
While the event organizers were likely not to blame, Emory coaches and athletic staff should assume responsibility for filling the glaring holes left by Beachum’s presentation. No program is perfect, and most of the challenges Emory faces regarding diversity and inclusion are shared by our peer institutions, but if Emory Athletics wants to fulfill its vision to build the “nation’s preeminent intercollegiate athletics program,” they need to step up their game.
Madeline Lutwyche is a College freshman from Baltimore, Maryland.