BYU to host NCAA Common Ground IV Conference

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The BYU campus will host the fourth annual NCAA Common Ground conference from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1. This program focuses on creating a space for public and private colleges and universities, faith-based organizations and LGBT affiliations to work together toward inclusion.

Amy Wilson is the NCAA director of inclusion (gender equity and LGBT) and plays a significant role in Common Ground. (Amy Wilson)

“We are trying to have difficult conversations that will lead people to act and be proactive about creating inclusive environments,” said Amy Wilson, NCAA director of inclusion (gender equity and LGBT).

Those in attendance of Common Ground IV will include student-athletes, athletics administrators and those who do LGBT or religious advocacy work. Wilson gave an example of these advocates. She said the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ vice president for government and external relations and some National Center for Lesbian Rights representatives will attend.

Wilson said many of those attending will reside from NCAA membership schools, allowing them to take what is discussed back to their campuses.

“It’s really hard to reach your full potential and to be your best self if you aren’t in a place or an environment where you feel loved and welcomed and respected,” Wilson said. “If Common Ground can help athletic departments across the country to create more inclusive environments, then that’s a win. I mean we’re all about wins and losses in athletics, but that is a win for everybody involved.”

Common Ground had its first meeting in Indianapolis in November 2014. There was not a conference in 2015, due to a change in inclusion staff, but resumed in 2016 in Indianapolis again.

Last year, Common Ground III was held at Houghton College, a Division III Christian liberal arts college affiliated with the Wesleyan Church. This was the first time the conference was held at a faith-based school.

“As it turned out, the AD (athletic director) at Houghton College, Skip Lord, is on our leadership team,” Wilson said. “He went back and talked to his president about what he had experienced at Common Ground II and how there were thoughts that we should go to a faith-based campus.”

BYU will be the second faith-based school to host the event, but the first Division I school to host.

“I got a sense from the two and a half days that I spent at BYU that there was a genuine desire to create more inclusive spaces for all students at BYU and that there was an openness and receptiveness to my message,” Wilson said.

Wilson visited BYU in February 2017 to discuss diversity and inclusion with many coaches, athletes and administrators. She said this encompassed LGBT inclusion.

“After that visit, I already had a relationship with Liz Darger and developed more of a relationship with Tom Holmoe, the AD, and also President (Kevin J) Worthen. Then, he and I had some conversations about what it would mean for BYU to host a meeting like this.”

Members of the Common Ground leadership team, including BYU senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Liz Darger (back row, second from the left) pose at Common Ground II at Houghton College, Nov. 1, 2017.
(Timothy Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos)

Wilson said planning for Common Ground IV to take place at BYU began in late winter/early spring of last year. She also said while Common Ground is funded by the NCAA and is an NCAA initiative, the Common Ground leadership team plays a significant role in the organization of these events.

BYU senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Liz Darger is a member of this team. She has spoken about some of her experiences with Common Ground before and recently said the Common Ground leadership team has had a conference call every other week to discuss the programming for Common Ground IV.

“To me, ‘common ground’ means a willingness to listen and seek to understand each other’s point of view,” Darger said. “Instead of immediately focusing on what makes us different, first focus on what we have in common. Everyone involved in this NCAA initiative loves student-athletes and cares about their well-being. That’s a great starting point for any dialogue or discussion because it’s central to why we work in college athletics.”

Common Ground IV will offer a campus-wide event. The event will be an open forum today, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m., in the Varsity Theater.

Liz Darger, BYU senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator, is a member of the Common Ground leadership team. (BYU Photo)

“I hope those who attend Common Ground IV will come away with an increased desire to reach out to those who may be different, particularly to student-athletes that may be on the margins,” Darger said. “I hope they leave the experience with more confidence in how to respectfully dialogue about hard and sensitive issues. (I hope) that the Common Ground experience will not only provide a model and practical experiences of how to do that but also desire to willing engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue with others.”

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