Published: April 7, 2021

Racial injustice and inequity have been embedded in our culture for centuries, and the events of the last 12 months have spurred long overdue national discussions about these issues. 

The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor nearly a year ago, as well as the recent violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Georgia, are part of a long history of violence against our communities of color.  

We know these issues require ongoing conversations if we’re to effect positive change. This is just as true in college athletics as it is in our nation broadly. 

CU Boulder Athletic Director Rick George

As an athletic department, we have a platform that enables us to take a leadership role on our campus and also in our community on issues of race and equity. 

With one of the most diverse student populations on campus, CU Athletics has long upheld the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. As part of annual performance reviews, we require staff to participate in professional development focused on creating an inclusive campus. And our partnership with the Student Recreation Center in sponsoring the annual Inclusive Sports Summit offers speakers, panels and presentations that spark dialogue around a wide range of social issues.

Still, we recognize that education is only part of the equation. We realize the importance of further embedding these values into our ethos as a department if we are to be leaders and help amplify the campus’s values and initiatives, such as the Inclusion, Diversity and Excellence in Academics (IDEA) Plan

Last summer, CU student-athletes and Athletics staff established a racial and social justice task force called CUnited to assess what the athletic department was doing well in relation to race and social change, where there were gaps, and what actions could be taken to help eliminate bias and promote diversity within the department. We also elevated our diversity and inclusion officer role to a member of my executive leadership team when we hired Alexis Williams as the senior associate athletic director for external operations.

Williams’s guidance has proven invaluable as we’ve navigated the events of the past year and created additional DEI programming for our student-athletes and staff. She and I quickly recognized that we need someone focused on guiding our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts full time if we are to be successful and accountable to our student-athletes, staff and broader campus community. 

I could not be more excited to say that I believe we’ve found the person to take our efforts to the next level in DaWon Baker, whom we’ve hired as our first associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion. Baker has spent the past three years in a similar role at the University of Nebraska, and begins his work with us on May 1. 

Baker will be charged with creating a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan that augments our overall Athletics strategic plan and aligns with the campus efforts outlined in the IDEA Plan. I was thrilled to have Assistant Vice Chancellor for Inclusion and Student Achievement Dyonne Bergeron participate on the search committee that recommended Baker, and I know they will work closely together to elevate and highlight DEI efforts across our department and campus. 

Just as importantly, Baker, a former student-athlete, will be a young leader present at our practices, games and in our facilities, and I know our student-athletes from all sports will immediately gravitate toward him. He’s exactly the type of leader we seek to hire as we aim to create an environment where our student-athletes develop cultural knowledge and skills by being among diverse staff who can help them grow into leaders themselves. 

While one person or program will not solve the issues around race and equity facing our nation, I am heartened to see tangible action being taken on our campus and also by many of our peers at athletic departments around the country, including in the Pac-12 Conference. At our Inclusive Sports Summit last month, I held a panel discussion with my athletic director colleagues from Stanford, Auburn and the University of Virginia on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion in college athletics. As I’ve noted, college athletics gives us a platform to keep these discussions in the spotlight to inspire meaningful actions.

I vow, and our CU Athletics leadership team vows, to keep reflecting, striving for continual improvement and aligning with our campus in creating a community that is welcoming and inclusive for all—where all who enter our programs, from student-athletes to staff, feel seen and supported and that our department provides a springboard to their growth and success.

Rick George
CU Boulder Athletic Director