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Diversity in Sports Interview Series: Leslie Fields (MSA '03)

Tuesday, March 8 2016 01:14pm

Northern Kentucky University's Associate Athletic Director for Compliance and Senior Woman Administrator comments on fostering diversity and inclusion in college athletics

Q & A by Valerie Dunlap (MSA '17)

What is your current role and what are your main responsibilities?

As the Associate AD for Compliance, I handle all of the standard, day-to-day Compliance issues while also serving as the Sport Administrator for men’s and women’s golf and overseeing the areas of Academic Success and Student-Athlete Development.

My role as the Senior Woman Administrator (SWA) holds me responsible for gender equity in the department. Additionally, I am responsible for overseeing Northern Kentucky’s Diversity Issues Plan, which is a plan that the athletic administrators collaborated on in order to identify which areas need to be improved regarding diversity and how we will best achieve these goals. It is my job to enforce these plans and ensure that we are making progress in reaching our diversity goals.  


What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity is more than where you are from, your race, sexual orientation, and all of the traditional identifiers. Diversity in an athletic department is having and including all different backgrounds and opinions in the decision making process in order to make decisions that will positively impact student-athletes.


How is diversity beneficial in your work environment?

Traditionally, most SWAs were in the Compliance field, which did not allow for a lot of varied perspectives during meetings. Now, it is nice to have SWAs serving in a variety of areas so that when we get together, we can help one another solve issues. Diversity is especially important in decision making processes and initiating new programs, especially those that call for big changes to be made. Because I am limited by my own background and experiences, it is important to work with a diverse staff so that I may be considerate and inclusive of all types of student-athletes and their needs. Diversity allows for informed decision making, which allows us to best impact all involved by being mindful of all involved.

The best example of this was when we included members of SAAC to help reinvent our end-of-the-year athletics awards banquet to better fit the wants and needs of the student-athlete population. It took a variety of opinions and ideas in order to make the new event a success.


Does Northern Kentucky University have specific programs or best practices to foster diversity and inclusion in athletics?

At NKU, our best practices for encouraging diversity are emphasized in the search and hiring processes because we feel that our biggest need for improvement lies in these areas. Currently, we are not happy with diversity among the athletics staff and senior leadership as there are few women and individuals of a racial minority in these roles. I believe that it is important to have a staff where each student-athlete has a staff member that he or she can identify with. However, it is challenging to encourage diversity in the search process when you are starting with a search committee that is not diverse. Therefore, we have improved our search committees to be more diverse in nature.

We have adopted a recruiting policy if the agreed upon applicant pool for an open position is not diverse.  Upon hiring, we also provide employees with opportunities for professional development in order to encourage talent retention.

Our Senior Advisor to the President for Inclusive Excellence has also played an integral role in making our campus more inclusive. She has delivered a diversity training program to our current staff. We have also been educated at our staff meetings about how to create an inclusive environment within our athletic teams. Additionally, we have a staff member that helps minority students adjust to life in the less-diverse Northern Kentucky region.


What are your thoughts about current NCAA diversity initiatives? Is there more that could be done to promote diversity and inclusion at the national level?

The current NCAA diversity programming is excellent. They really do a lot at the national level. The current internship program for women and minority individuals does a great job of providing more opportunities to these demographics. Additionally, the NCAA has specific scholarship programs for women and minority students and also hosts an annual Inclusion Forum. This year’s Forum will discuss issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, Title IX, disabilities, and international students.


How has your experience in the OHIO Sports Administration program shaped your chosen career?

The program’s curriculum and outside initiatives made me well-rounded in the sense that I can contribute to a variety of areas within NKU’s athletic department because of what I learned at OHIO. Being a graduate student at a mid-major University gives you more responsibilities and ability to learn on the job. Lastly, Bobcats develop a unique work ethic and great problem solving skills.


What is your best advice for current students in the program?

Networking is important. Get as many work opportunities as possible, even if they are not in your chosen field and even if it is a short-term assignment. You never know what connections these opportunities will lead to or what you will learn about yourself.