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Towson University athletics recognized by NCAA for fostering diversity and inclusion

Towson University was named Wednesday the recipient of the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association’s (MOAA) 2021 Award for Diversity and Inclusion and will be honored Jan. 14 during the 2021 NCAA Convention, which will run virtually.

“We are thrilled that the Towson University athletics department has received this national recognition,” Towson athletic director Tim Leonard in a statement to the NCAA. “Our goal is to foster a climate that is grounded in respect and inclusion for staff, coaches and student-athletes. We take great pride in the gender equity program headed up by our senior woman administrator, Tricia Brandenburg.

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“The Total Tiger Program, under the direction of Antwaine Smith, has been a staple of Towson athletics for years. The program gives our student-athletes opportunities to engage and interact with the Greater Baltimore area through community service and has helped turn them into leaders off the field. Although much work remains to be done, everyone involved should be proud of what we have already accomplished.”

The NCAA/MOAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion pays tribute to schools and conferences that coordinate the initiatives and policies that embrace diversity and inclusion through athletics. Some avenues to accomplish this include community service, professional development, hiring practices or programming activities that emphasize opportunities for people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences.

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“The Towson University athletics staff and student-athletes have demonstrated a consistent pattern of developing instrumental programming and activities that put a spotlight on the importance of inclusivity and diversity, and we’re proud to honor them with the 2021 NCAA and MOAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion,” said Derrick Gragg, the NCAA’s senior vice president of inclusion, education and community engagement. “Towson is a role model, as staff and student-athletes have engaged in critical conversations and they’ve been bold with their initiatives on campus and in their community, despite having to navigate these challenging times. They deserve a round of applause for their hard work and commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Towson has concentrated on inclusivity for its athletes and staff on several fronts. One of those is the Total Tiger Program, which seeks “to educate, advocate, mentor and serve” its athletes, according to its website. One initiative pairs athletes with mentors to help improve graduation and retention numbers.

Last summer, after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black victims, the university created an athletics department called “Am I Next?” that centered on sentiments from Black students and coaches. The school also supported the formation of TU Athletes Vote, a nonpartisan group of athletes, coaches, staff members and athletic department administrators that sought to stir excitement for registering to vote and voting in elections this past fall.

Athletes also gave voices to their personal experiences with racism and ways to become better allies, participating in a series of digital blogs called Her/His Words. The athletics department continued those conversations by creating committees, one of which was formed to craft strategies to address anti-racism actions on campus and in the community.

The athletics department also has a Gender Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Program Review Guide that seeks to evaluate and review efforts in those specific areas. The office also polls athletes on the programming and department culture through a project called Real Recruit and offers a coaching assessment tool to critique each sport within the framework of the department’s strategic plan.

Some other highlights of the athletics department’s outreach include a community partner program that seeks to build diversity in sports, a program to raise awareness of autism, and workshops with local police groups to foster open dialogue.

China Jude, MOAA president and University of Wyoming senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator, said the organization is committed to celebrating those who make positive contributions in spite of a coronavirus pandemic during 2020.

“MOAA and the NCAA are excited to continue the tradition of the Award for Diversity and Inclusion by honoring Towson University for its impressive efforts,” she said. “This award showcases the great work that our institutions continue to do, both within the college athletics community and campus as a whole.”

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