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Northern Illinois Earns NCAA's Diversity Award

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Northern Illinois University has earned the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association's 2022 Award for Diversity and Inclusion. The university will be honored during the Saluting Excellence Program on Jan. 21 during the 2022 NCAA Convention.

The NCAA/MOAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion recognizes the initiatives, policies and practices of school and conference offices that embrace diversity and inclusion across intercollegiate athletics. This can be achieved through community service, professional development, hiring practices or programming activities that enhance opportunities for people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences.

"Northern Illinois University powerfully illustrates the intentional, strategic and consistent efforts taken at the campus level to foster an inclusive campus environment for student-athletes, coaches and administrators," said Felicia Martin, NCAA interim senior vice president for inclusion, education and community engagement. 

Eight years ago, the NIU Athletics Diversity Integration Group was established to create an inclusive culture and climate with assessable goals. After the school won the 2016 NCAA/MOAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion, DIG put a more comprehensive action plan in motion. Since then, DIG has added diversity and cultural resource centers that provide access to campus resources and community programs.

"At Northern Illinois University, we live the values of diversity, equity and inclusion every day," said Sean T. Frazier, vice president and director of athletics and recreation. "Becoming the first institution to earn the NCAA/MOAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion for a second time is a validation of what we have accomplished so far, as well as a recognition of our outcomes and ongoing commitment in this critical area. 

"This award represents the hard work being done throughout Huskie athletics by coaches, staff, student-athletes and teams to create an inclusive and accepting environment. We could not have made the strides forward we have made — and will continue to make — in this area without the collaboration of our university and community partners, and the leadership of President Lisa C. Freeman and the board of trustees. 

"Advancing the causes of diversity, equity and inclusion in intercollegiate athletics has been a passion of mine throughout my career, and I'm extremely proud that NIU continues to carry the torch forward by providing a model that can be replicated across the country."

NIU also aims to lead by example in personal engagement and strategic plans, including hiring practices that reflect its commitment to athletics diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, in response to protests against racial injustices surrounding George Floyd's murder in the summer of 2020, DIG responded by creating the Social Justice Athletics Action Plan, which leveraged collaboration, education and technology to support NIU athletics members in need.

What's more, NIU is the only Football Bowl Subdivision school led by a female president whose director of athletics, head football coach and head men's basketball coach are all African American. 

Further, NIU nurtures several touch points with coaches, staff and student-athletes to help support and assess the inclusion needs of the athletics department. A confidential survey is disseminated annually to coaches and staff to learn about their experiences in the athletics department. In the annual program evaluation, student-athletes anonymously report their experiences for that year. There is an area that allows them to share their experiences regarding diversity, equity and inclusion and provide additional comments.

NIU conducts two professional development trainings per year for coaches and staff. The first is a program called Conversation on Diversity and Equity, facilitated by the office of academic diversity, equity and inclusion. The second is a cultural and practical competencies development training called LGBTQIA+ Ally Training, facilitated by a DIG member and the director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

The trainings aim to empower coaches to create their own diversity, equity and inclusion programming within their teams. For example, the women's basketball, softball and soccer teams have created specific DEI programming within their squads that employ different campus resources — like the school's diversity, equity and inclusion office and the diversity and culture resource centers — to engage with them in training and activism.

The athletics department partners with the Center for Black Studies and Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, as well as centers that focus on Latinos, those with disabilities, and military members and veterans. DIG membership includes the directors of the cultural centers, increasing access to programming and education.

"The beauty about winning this award is it highlights the importance of having a clear vision of diversity, equity and inclusion as a university and athletics department," said Courtney Vinson, senior associate athletics director for sports administration.

"This demonstrates the power that college campuses hold when athletics collaborates with the campus community to create, foster and maintain an environment that embraces the humanity of people. I want to thank our campus partners, coaches and staff for their daily contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion in our athletics department."

This spring, DIG will announce an award that recognizes teams and individuals for their campus and athletics participation in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

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