Appalachian State University has made many advancements in our diversity and inclusion work in recent years. There is still much to be done to elevate the voices and representation of marginalized populations on our campus, and we are committed to persevering as these cultural and systemic changes continue to take hold.
An accountability team, convened by Chancellor Sheri Everts and made up of students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and members of the Board of Trustees will help our university remain focused and accountable.
During regular Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team meetings, members of the Chancellor’s Cabinet will report on progress and challenges related to the initiatives within their areas of responsibility. The accountability team will provide feedback, discuss challenges, and help celebrate successes.
Summary reports from these meetings will be shared via regular updates to campus and posted below.
Our work builds upon the many good efforts that have been underway across our campus and will help shine a light on the initiatives and individuals pushing this work to the forefront. Each change will help foster a more inclusively welcoming environment for underrepresented populations that ultimately benefits our entire campus community.
Diversity and Inclusion Accountability meeting updates
Feb. 25, 2021
On Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, the Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team heard a presentation from staff in App State Athletics regarding action plans for education, retention and mentorship of Black student-athletes, as well as progress made regarding hiring and supporting athletic coaches, staff and trainers of color. Kyndavee Bichara — an international business major who serves as president of the Black Student Association and who founded the Black Student-Athletes Association — introduced the speakers.
This presentation is a continuation of the Accountability Team’s commitment to regularly hear presentations from university leaders that detail progress on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
- Athletic Director Doug Gillin thanked Chancellor Sheri Everts and Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming, both of whom were in attendance, for their support of his department’s initiatives. He reported that the Athletics Department uses a 12–18 month operations plan, instead of a traditional strategic plan, so they can more quickly respond to the changing needs of the university and student-athletes. He said the department has created opportunities, particularly recently, to hear directly from student-athletes — citing the Real Talk forums in which students speak and administrators listen.
- Pierre Banks, director of student athlete development, said the primary goal of his job is to make sure athletes are ready for life after college, in regard to life skills and career development, as well as understanding their role in politics and civic engagement. As a result of the Real Talk forums, referenced by Gillin, the staff created the Bridge Builders Mentoring Program, which pairs a student-athlete with an alumnus, faculty or staff member, or community member. Additionally, Athletics is collaborating with the App State Alumni Association on an alumni-specific mentoring program. Athletics has also worked closely with the Career Development Center to create a series of athlete-specific events, including Career Meetups and a Pro Day career fair and networking opportunity. A career coach in Career Development provides weekly office hours specifically for student-athletes. Banks also discussed mental health programming for student-athletes including a mental fitness podcast series created with Dr. Jacob Cooper, App State Athletics’ staff psychologist, and the addition of an adjunct counselor of color in the university’s Counseling & Psychological Services.
- Makini Thompson, senior associate athletic director, said the department created a Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the first priority has been to amplify underrepresented voices. For example, they created the Black and Gold Tribune to share stories of their student-athletes. The committee is also working to improve programming, talk more with student-athletes, develop mentoring and support for coaches and staff of color, and create more education for coaches and staff about diversity and inclusion. The department implemented the Real Response communication platform in response to requests from student-athletes for an option to anonymously share concerns with athletics staff. Student-athletes also asked to be involved in Black History Month programming, and the staff helped create profile stories of current student-athletes as well as profiles of “trailblazers'' from App State’s history. Thompson also highlighted the department’s participation in the Sun Belt Conference’s “Be the Change” racial equity initiative, and a new scholarship designated for an underrepresented student — funded by former NFL player and App State alumnus Steve Wilks and his wife Marcia.
- Gillin concluded the presentation by sharing notable statistics and superlatives:
- The percentage of underrepresented App State Athletics staff members has increased from 8.6% in 2015 to 18.3% in 2020.
- 36% of App State student-athletes are from underrepresented populations, which is consistent with the NCAA Division I average, which Gillin said was in the “mid-thirties.”
- 25% of App State student-athletes are Black or African American, as compared to an average of 16% of NCAA Division I athletes.
- App State is the only athletic department in the Sun Belt Conference with a black senior women’s administrator, and the department continues to ensure every search committee has minority representation.
After the presentation, Fleming and Bailey Gardin, a political science major and the Student Government Association’s director of academic affairs, moderated a question-and-answer session. Here are a selection of comments and questions:
- Several Accountability Team members, including James Reaves, Korbin Cummings, Renee Evans and Avery Hall, commended the progress made by App State Athletics as well as the successful collaboration between university administrators and the BlackAtAppState Collective.
- David Williams asked about opportunities for student-athletes to access internships and networking. Banks confirmed that the Bridge Builders program requires meetings with mentors and creates opportunities for real-world experience.
- Cummings asked if the progress on App State’s diversity and inclusion initiatives could be shared online in a user-friendly format. Fleming responded that a metrics tracker was in progress.
- Bichara asked if the App State Athletics initiatives were sustainable. Gillin responded that this “is a movement, not a moment” and that the department is going to “keep our foot on the gas” in regard to these initiatives.
The Accountability Team has monthly meetings scheduled in March and April 2021.
Nov. 12, 2020
On Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, the Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team, which includes Chancellor Everts and members of the BlackatAppState Collective, met to discuss the faculty diversity recruitment program, practices and initiatives — the first of many forthcoming presentations to the team that will detail the university’s progress on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
The meeting was moderated by Director of Intercultural Student Affairs Lamont Sellers, with questions facilitated by senior business management and supply chain major Elijah Diarrassouba and Black Student Association President Kyndavee Bichara.
The Chief Diversity Officer and representatives from Academic Affairs and Human Resources provided presentations about the university’s ongoing collaboration and significant progress in its recruitment and hiring practices.
- Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming gave a presentation about implicit bias in the recruitment process, including how to review position descriptions to ensure the language is accurate and inclusive.
- Dr. James Denniston, coordinator of faculty diversity recruitment and inclusion initiatives in the Division of Academic Affairs, presented information about faculty search committee resources and toolkits. Notably, he shared that Interim Provost Heather Norris gave directives in Oct. 2020 for departments to, among other tasks, continue refining recruitment plans, rubrics, interview questions, departmental search committee policies and position descriptions.
- Shelley Leder, the lead talent acquisition specialist in the Office of Human Resources, shared specific action steps in the university’s recruitment process that ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are being considered.
The group discussed ways to build on the current recruitment and retention strategies and practices. Specifically, Chancellor Everts addressed a question about advocating for resources for the university at the state level and provided a brief overview of her advocacy efforts for state funding, which include changing App State's peer comparison group.
Moving forward, members of the Chancellor's Cabinet will continue their work and report to the Accountability Team regarding progress, challenges and plans for accomplishing specific action items. The Accountability Team meets monthly.
Oct. 8, 2020
On Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, Appalachian leaders and representatives from the BlackAtAppState Collective established a steering committee composed of three members of the BlackAtAppState Collective, three black student-athletes and three App State leaders. Each month, this committee will meet to review the progress of campus units tasked with addressing the identified diversity and inclusion initiatives. The committee will then present monthly reports to the larger Accountability Team — which encompasses nearly 60 people, including faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni and community members. The steering committee is working to schedule its first official meeting.
Sept. 23, 2020
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, Appalachian leaders met with representatives from the BlackAtAppState Collective to finish discussing each of the identified initiatives. The group discussed approximately half of the initiatives at the Sept. 4, 2020 meeting. These meetings are intended to ensure both groups have a shared understanding of the purpose of each initiative and its associated engagement for implementation. The next meeting of these groups is being scheduled, during which the groups will discuss the creation of a permanent steering committee that will review the progress of the campus units completing the identified initiatives.
Sept. 4, 2020
On Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, members of the BlackAtAppState Collective met with Appalachian leaders — specifically, Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown, Interim Provost Heather Norris, Director of Wellness and Prevention Services Alex Howard, Department of Student Engagement and Leadership Jeff Cathey and Interim Dean of Students Alan Rasmussen. The group talked through half of the identified initiatives, which reflect the BlackAtAppState Collective’s list of demands as well as existing and additional university initiatives. Members of the Collective shared additional thoughts and engaged with Appalachian leaders in discussions about the initiatives. The group will finish discussing the second half of the initiatives during the next meeting and will also continue conversations about the purpose of the Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team.
Aug. 14, 2020
A small group from the Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team met on Aug. 14, 2020 to review progress and solidify next steps. In the leadup to this meeting, Chancellor’s Cabinet members met with members of the BlackAtAppState Collective to discuss concerns resulting from the first meeting of the Accountability Team on July 21, which is detailed below. Prior to the next Accountability Team meeting, members of the BlackAtAppState Collective will meet with a small group of Chancellor's Cabinet and Student Affairs representatives to set mutual expectations for the meeting, determine the items to be addressed and discuss in more detail the initiatives shared by the Collective.
July 21, 2020
The Chancellor’s Cabinet held a meeting to bring together a Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team on July 21, 2020. The meeting’s central purpose was to acknowledge each item in a petition to university leadership from a group called BlackAtAppState, identify additional university strategic diversity and inclusion priorities, and present the action plan for addressing these collectively identified priorities and their broader themes.