American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has announced the creation of a Racial Equality Action Group consisting of administrators, head coaches and student-athletes from The American’s member institutions along with select ex officio members of the conference staff.
University of Tulsa Vice President and Director of Athletics Derrick Gragg will chair the group. In addition, Tulsa football junior offensive lineman Chris Paul, a member of the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and chair of The American’s SAAC Executive Board, has also been named to the group.
The goal of the group will be to translate words into conference-wide actions regarding the effort to eliminate racial inequality and injustice. Supporting this goal, the conference will launch a campaign to address racial inequality and injustice in all their manifestations, and to foster education and understanding among the various constituencies of its member institutions that will translate into outreach to their respective communities.
“We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history in terms of racial justice and equality, underscored by the tragic and heartbreaking events of recent weeks, and we have an obligation to our universities and students to enact real change,” said American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco. “Words are important, but words are not enough. Action is required.
“The Racial Equality Action Group’s work and the accompanying campaign will be catalysts for debate and education that can lead to understanding and healing and will enable our students and all those connected to our universities to engage their communities. We will devote significant resources to this effort. There is no better person than Derrick Gragg to lead this initiative, which is as important as anything that we will be doing. These problems are deeply rooted, but we can make an impact and effect change.”
“This is a monumental time in American history for higher education, intercollegiate athletics and the entire world,” said Gragg. “I am honored to serve as Chair of this important action group that is engaged in meaningful, impactful work. We will focus on developing meaningful initiatives that will focus on eliminating racism, hate and bias while fostering unity, solidarity and equality. We will continue to engage our student-athletes, coaches, athletics and campus staff members to identify ways to unite and make an everlasting difference now and in the future. We certainly welcome input from our conference membership and others as we move forward together.”
Among other things, the campaign will develop messaging through public service announcements, hashtags enabling relevant experiences, stories and uplifting relationships to be shared and through utilization of other platforms. The campaign will sponsor town halls and workshops and will seek to create a dialogue with campus police and police departments in the communities of The American’s member institutions. The conference will also support the national efforts of coaches and other constituencies in combatting racism and racial inequality.
The American’s Academic Consortium will play a central role in the campaign by commissioning and supporting research into the root causes of racism and ways in which race relations can be improved.
The conference’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will also have a leadership role in identifying and implementing various educational initiatives that will be a critical component of the overall campaign.
Members of The American’s Racial Equality Action Group:
- Chair – Derrick Gragg, Vice President and Director of Athletics, The University of Tulsa
- Michael Kelly, Vice President of Athletics and Athletic Directors Executive Committee Chair, University of South Florida
- Michelle Adams, Associate Professor of Sociology and Faculty Athletics Representative, Tulane University
- LaKesha Alston Forbes, Associate Provost for Equity and Diversity, East Carolina University
- Jessica Reo, Executive Senior Associate AD/SWA, Temple University
- Brandi Stuart, Executive Associate AD/SWA, University of Central Florida
- Ken Niumatalolo, Head Football Coach, United States Naval Academy
- Kelvin Sampson, Head Men’s Basketball Coach, University of Houston
- Michelle Clark-Heard, Head Women’s Basketball Coach, University of Cincinnati
- Grant Chen, Head Men’s Tennis Coach, Southern Methodist University
- Chris Paul, Football Student-Athlete and NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, American SAAC Executive Board Chair, The University of Tulsa
- Mike Aresco, Commissioner, American Athletic Conference (ex officio member)
- Donna DeMarco, COO, American Athletic Conference (ex officio member)