Friday Focus: Expectations and responsibility

September 10, 2020

Tori Tragis

Keith Champagne. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Keith Champagne. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Keith Champagne, vice chancellor for student affairs and athletics

Following the May 25th killing of George Floyd and the protest and conversations around the globe that his death ignited, I have been asked to participate in various conversations regarding anti-Blackness, antiracism, diversity, inclusion and inclusive excellence, and sports as a catalyst for social change. In fact, many of these conversations have focused on sports, race, ethnicity and what is transpiring around the country in intercollegiate and professional sports. In the conversations are questions about expectations and responsibility. For example, I was recently asked, “What have you experienced at UAF and in Fairbanks?” “What are your experiences and thoughts regarding sports and social change?” and “What are you doing as a leader?”

In this column, I will attempt to answer these questions. I understand that as a Black man in an executive leadership position in charge of both student affairs and intercollegiate athletics, there are expectations and a responsibility for me to rise to the occasion as a leader and to be a change agent. My days since May 25th and the subsequent events following have not been easy days for me. 

I fully understand the expectations and my responsibility as a leader who happens to be Black. For instance, if it were not for the vision, courage, and demonstrated commitment to diversity, inclusion, inclusive excellence and caring from my leader, Chancellor Dan White, I would not be in the position that I am currently serving in. Chancellor White provided me with the opportunity to lead as an executive, and he allowed me to be myself, a leader who is Black person with a demonstrated commitment to diversity, inclusion, inclusive excellence, social equity and change. I share this because Chancellor White is probably in recent times the first chancellor to hire an African-American Black man in an executive position at UAF, and I know that he is one of only two university CEOs at a predominately white institution to hire two Black leaders consecutively to lead and oversee a comprehensive NCAA intercollegiate athletics program. The only other institution to accomplish this is Ohio State University, with the hires of its last two athletic director positions.

Moreover, as I reflect on my experiences at the university and in the city of Fairbanks, I can honestly state that I have never received an anti-Blackness reception and nor have I experienced any overt or covert differential treatment and racism. I absolutely love being in the Fairbanks community and I truly love this world-class major public research institution. I have been kindly and caringly welcomed by the diverse and inclusive community that is Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In addition, I am a firm believer that intercollegiate athletics and sports in general have been and continue to be a catalyst for social change and progress in this country during different and turbulent periods in our communities. As we continue to move forward as a society in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, we will continue to see positive change in our communities, which will be inspired by both collegiate and professional athletes in this country and around the globe, and Nanook student-athletes will certainly play a role creating this positive change.

Furthermore as a leader, I am perfectly aware of others’ expectations for me regarding diversity, inclusion, inclusive excellence, equity, caring and social change, and I completely understand, acknowledge and accept my responsibility as an executive and leader who is African-American and Black in higher education. 

To answer the question of what am I doing as a leader, first, I am working to ensure that the university’s climate and culture continues to be a space for persons from diverse and inclusive backgrounds. 

Second, I am cooperating and collaborating with others throughout the university community to create and implement programs both academic and student-centered to serve students from diverse and inclusive backgrounds.

Third, we are embracing and infusing Alaska Native languages, history and culture in our athletics programs and we have increased our recruiting of Alaska Native student athletes in our sports programs. 

Fourth, this fall, we will convene our Nanook Athletics Diversity and Council. 

Finally, all of our head coaches in Nanook athletics will be accountable and responsible for addressing and responding to diversity, inclusion and inclusive excellence initiatives in their programs.

There is a tenet in critical race theory called interest convergence, which states that persons from diverse racial and ethnic populations who are marginalized and oppressed will experience equity, equality and social change when it is in the best interest of those who are in power in our country’s institutions, organizations and business. Consequently, as a person in a leadership position in higher education at this university, I will definitely do my part to always work towards interest convergence.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is asked to contribute a column.