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Diversity Week Day 3 - The Facts

Diversity Week Day 3 - The Facts

Patricia Thomas was appointed Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of the District of Columbia in December of 2008, becoming the first female African American Athletic Director in the university's history. According to a recent report from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), less than nine percent of Athletic Directors at all member institutions are African American, and less than two percent are female African Americans.

As Athletic Director, Thomas oversees all operations in the Athletic Department for the Firebirds, specifically the university's 10 Division II teams which include: men's and women's basketball, men's soccer, men's and women's tennis, women's indoor and outdoor track and field, women's cross country, and men's and women's lacrosse. In July of 2011, Thomas guided the Firebirds into the East Coast Conference (ECC), the first ever conference affiliation for the University of the District of Columbia.

Thomas came to the University of the District of Columbia with over 30 years of experience in NCAA athletics. Prior to accepting the post at the University of the District of Columbia, Thomas served as the Senior Associate Athletic Director at Georgetown University and as a member of the NCAA Division I Management Council. At Georgetown, Thomas was responsible for providing direct support to student-athletes and served as the sport administrator for over fifteen sports programs during her tenure.

She has seen a lot of positive changes in NCAA athletics, but there is one change she would still like to see happen. In her blog, she addresses "The Elephant in the Room."


The Elephant in the Room


by Patricia Thomas 

I am a trailblazer, a fraction, one of the 2.6 percent of Directors of Athletics at NCAA member institutions who is a woman of color.   The statistical model, according to the most recent college sports racial and gender report card, conducted by  Richard Lapchick's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), with the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central  Florida.  TIDE is an interesting acronym in this context.  While Richard Lapchick has been advocating diversity in athletics for ages, race and gender in college athletics are subjects that are discussed periodically, the national conversation rises and falls seemingly with the publication of Richard's reports.

With the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX on the horizon, NCAA member institutions scored lower gender hiring practices than the previous two years.   The national office in Indianapolis fared a bit better.   While gender equality is discussed, and measured with increased frequency, racial equity seems, at least to me, the elephant in the room.   I am as guilty as anyone, perhaps, for not carrying the "Black Female Athletic Directors matter" banner as much as I reasonably should.   After all, pointing out the obvious is my responsibility, right?   However, the various roles and responsibilities throughout my decades long career in athletics administration, were done so with the deliberate thought of the task at hand and the end result as a competent professional.   It did not seem to matter, at least to me most of the time, that I was black or a woman.  After all, early on as I participated on NCAA committees, I interacted with outstanding black women such as Horizon League Senior Associate Commissioner, Alfreeda Goff who today remains among the most respected athletic administrators in the country,  Michelle Willis, Senior Associate Director of Athletics at the Ohio State University, Jackie Campbell  who served in the National Office, and there was Dee Todd, the first female Director of Athletics at North Carolina A&T University and the first black female to appear on the box of Kellogg's Cornflakes,  to name a few.    As we contributed on the national level and our respective careers developed, the number of women in athletics administration who looked like us would grow in proportion to the number of  female student-athletes (of color).   Our presence would tell the story for us or so I thought.   With each ensuing year, Richard Lapchick's reports would reveal the actual lack of progress in administration as well as coaching among women of color; the NCAA's data would reflect similar results.  

Where are we and what is my responsibility?  The good news is that dialogue related to diversity in the microcosm of the National Collegiate Athletic Association is spreading and deepening to include ethnicity and race.   The occasion on which I write this blog as an example, strengthens the importance of the movement among NCAA member institutions.   Women Leaders in College Sports, through the Women of Color Initiative, provides growth opportunities.  The tide is rising.   China Jude, Sr. Associate Director of Athletics at the University of Wyoming has made increasing the growth and visibility of women of color a mission.   Through China's leadership, the Women of Color Athletic Director network was formed a few years ago.  During the 2018 National Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Convention this past June, the Women of Color Athletic Director network benefitted from a panel discussion featuring, Dr. Dan Mahoney, President of Winthrop University, Dr. Amita Breaux, President of Bowie State University and Dr. Marylou Yam, President of Notre Dame College of Maryland.   The session was enlightening, however what was most powerful was the experience of sitting in a room with over 50 women of color who serve as Commissioners, Athletic Directors and in other administrative roles in athletics.  The day before the NACDA panel, six of us participated in a discussion as part of The Culture of Sports, moderated by Jonathan Yates.   The segment was taped in the State House of the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis and featured, Dr. China Jude, UC Riverside AD Tamica Smith Jones, Dartmouth Senior Woman Administrator Kristene Kelly, Lafayette AD Sherryta Freeman, former Winston-Salem State AD, Tanya Walker, and yours truly.   I have mentored or at least touched the lives of countless young men and women along the way.  And, I  am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have experienced and the individuals who were instrumental in guiding my path, most notably Francis X. Rienzo, Joseph Lang, Denis Kanach, Dwight Datcher, Adam Brick, Kevin White, Linda Bruno, Jean Lenti Ponsetto and countless other administrators and coaches.   However I  do recognize my role in pushing the elephant out of the room, and working to significantly increase  the 2.6.