“Florida State Athletics is committed to fighting for equality and justice for the black community and other communities of color. We support our student-athletes, coaches, and staff in their quest to end racism, and we encourage all of our athletics family to use their voices to demand fairness and to speak out when they see injustice. We will support one another and encourage each other as we work together to end injustice and racism in all forms in our country.”
This statement shares the values of the members of the Department of Athletics at Florida State as we work together to find solutions to the social injustices, racism and inequities communities of color face on a daily basis. It reflects the position of the institution best described by President John Thrasher who said “it is important during these tumultuous times that we reaffirm that we, as a university, holds most dear, — respect, civility, diversity and inclusion – as well as our commitment to justice and equality.”
As a department, we have historically had measures in place that have helped us fight these injustices and support all of our student-athletes and the members of our department. Those measures have amplified each of their voices and put them in the best position to be successful both on and off their chosen courts and fields of play.
As directed by our Director of Athletics, the Florida State Athletics Department has developed a system of initiatives designed not simply to discuss a plan of action, but more importantly, to act on that plan. The FSUnified Initiative is chaired by Ashton Henderson, Florida State’s Assistant Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Development. Henderson also serves as FSU’s Diversity Officer for Athletics.
Among the initiatives already moving forward is a push by the members of the Seminole football team to increase their visibility in the Tallahassee community. Their actions included a beautification project and a donation from the football program of more than $11,000 to Riley Elementary School. The money raised by the football team has already gone to the purchase of books for the students to begin the 2020-21 school year.
“We didn’t want it to stop at just words,” said FSU Head Football Coach Mike Norvell during the outing at Riley Elementary. “We wanted to put actions toward that. We are passionate about this community and very passionate about the youth of Tallahassee. To be able to be a part of this with them is something that makes me really proud.”
Members of the Seminole football team will engage in virtual reading programs at the Pineview and Sabal Palm Elementary Schools and will also participate in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Big Bend Program, among many other initiatives.
“I am thrilled to work alongside my colleagues within our FSUnified Initiative to help end racism and provide equity and equality for all,” said Henderson. “Our four subcommittees: Communications, Strategic Partnerships, Training and Development, and Planning and Logistics are working tirelessly to curate initiatives on campus and within the Greater Tallahassee Community. We are strong. We are resilient. We are FSUnified.”
Henderson will also serve a vital role for Florida State as a member of the ACC CORE (Champions of Racial Equality) Committee. The committee was formed by ACC Commissioner John Swofford with a vision to vault the ACC into the lead in college athletics by promoting and instilling racial and social justice, and equity for all at the conference level.
Florida State’s student-athletes have been given increased ownership to drive the conversation and the actions of the athletics department in relation to making our department, community and world a more equitable place for all.
Redshirt sophomore football player Jaiden-Lars Woodbey – a leader among Florida State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) – continues to make his voice heard and has accepted the responsibility as the chairman of the newly established Equity, Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee sponsored by SAAC. Among the purposes of the subcommittee is to give the student-athletes an opportunity to spark meaningful discussion and actions.
“I think that Ashton and our athletics staff have done a phenomenal job regarding the inclusivity of everyone’s individuality and creating more of a salad bowl instead of a melting pot,” said Lars-Woodbey, from Fontana, Calif. “The difference between the two is that a salad bowl allows you to experience everyone’s culture while respecting others compared to a melting pot where assimilation has taken place.”
Throughout the summer and during the current pandemic, Florida State’s student-athletes have held multiple Open Arms Open Ears listening sessions that featured Lt. Greg Washington of the FSU Police Department’s Special Operations Division and Seminole Basketball Head Coach Leonard Hamilton. Numerous times this summer, the staff of the Department of Athletics and the Seminole Boosters have also conducted listening sessions geared towards encouraging dialogue about the issue facing our communities and creating safe spaces for staff to share their personal stories, experiences, concerns and ideas.
“During this time, we are looking for new and engaging ways to communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion on our campus and within our Seminole family, not only among athletes but also within the communities that support them,” said redshirt freshman beach volleyball player Alex Hilton, who is from Sarasota, Fla. “We are brainstorming ways we can use social media, newsletters, and podcasts to share personal stories and illuminate first-hand experiences.
“In essence, we are each trying to unlearn hatred so that together, we can teach peace. We know, however, that this is a marathon and not a sprint — when people get tired of hearing about diversity and inclusion, it will be up to us, not to be louder, but rather to adapt our tone and say it in a way that makes them want to listen.”
In addition to the call to action by the Seminole football team, the Student Athlete Development staff has partnered with the Leon County Supervisor of Elections office to conduct voter registration drives on campus for our student-athletes and staff. Prior to Election Day, Florida State partnered with the Leon County Supervisor of Elections to ensure National Voting Registration Day on September 22 would be a priority for all of our student-athletes.
Included in the action plan for athletics was giving the entire student-athlete population time off from practice and training on Election Day to ensure there were no barriers stopping our department from voting in the national election.
Paxton Rhodes, a senior swimmer from Tampa, is the SAAC President for the 2020-21 academic year, a member of the planning and logistics subcommittee of the Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee, as well as a respected student-athlete. He led a movement that developed a Diversity and Inclusion committee with the SAAC – and sees both groups – the student-athletes and the Athletics Department — working simultaneously and hand in hand to promote change.
“It’s a privilege to be a part of the committee that involves discussing and fostering change to something that is bigger than all of us,” said Rhodes. “The current displays of racial injustices around our nation provided a large wake-up call for our country and it is time we start implementing policies and procedures to help combat inequality and help promote systemic change.
“Having this committee within our athletic department enables us to tap into a very large and popular community that has been in the spotlight recently and can really bring awareness to issues such as these. I am glad that I can help provide support to the FSU athletic community and my fellow teammates through this committee by letting their voices be heard and their problems addressed.
“Florida State Athletics prides itself on a long history of prestigious achievements and remarkable wins,” said Senior Associate Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator Vanessa Fuchs. “This opportunity before us, the opportunity to collectively come together as a Seminole family to impact enduring equality and create a better tomorrow for all, may be the most prestigious, remarkable win of them all.”
The Department of Athletics has included the campus community in its action plan for Diversity and Inclusion. Michelle Douglas, the Director of the Office of Human Resources at Florida State, has helped guide the Seminole staff through a number of Celebrating Diversity Zoom calls.
“In my role as Chief Diversity Officer, I value the partnership with Athletics. Ashton and Vanessa have long been in the vanguard of the university’ diversity and inclusion efforts,” said Douglas. “With David’s support and leadership, as well as the engagement with leaders among our student athletes, I am encouraged that we will reach our institutional goal of a campus community that values and embraces our diversity.”
The Florida State Department of Athletics, working in conjunction with the entire Florida State community, is committed to working together to create an atmosphere of Diversity and Inclusion among our student-athletes, our coaches and our staff.
That commitment is at the core of our beliefs and includes the ideals we will operate under moving forward.
Diversity and Inclusion Program Initiatives
Communications – Responsible for strategizing and mobilizing internal/external modes of communication to keep our athletics department and key stakeholders abreast of our efforts. Also, will cultivate various social media/branding strategies to infuse within our athletics department.
Strategic Partnership – Collaborate with the newly launched Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion to build community and carry out initiatives within the university’s strategic plan. Also, engage with community stakeholders and constituency groups to help further advance the mission of our committee.
Training & Development – Coordinate training and certification programming for Staff, Coaches, and Boosters. Work in conjunction with our CDO to ensure we are aware of upcoming trainings and areas for staff members to further expand their D&I lens.
Planning & Logistics – Create an athletics diversity and inclusion calendar which will highlight affinity group events and upcoming training opportunities for our population. Build decks, videos, and content for training. Also, create an inclusive virtual Zoom environment by establishing breakout rooms, discussion questions, audit the zoom chat, and create a playlist for staff to enjoy from all musical genres.