Sherryta Freeman, director of athletics

In 2018, Sherryta Freeman became the first woman of color to serve as director of athletics at Lafayette College. The former senior associate athletic director at University of Pennsylvania has brought great change to College Hill along with her multi-pronged plan to elevate athletics. The subsequent launch of Creating a Championship Culture, the athletics strategic plan spearheaded by Freeman and launched shortly after her arrival, is further operationalizing her vision to achieve competitive excellence AND improve the student experience. Freeman has gone to great lengths to ensure all student-athletes are represented equally at the College through implementing a variety of initiatives. And news of her work is spreading beyond College Hill as her efforts were recently highlighted in Sports Illustrated. We sat down with Freeman to talk about some of the many ways she is furthering Lafayette Athletics’ commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Last year, Lafayette Athletics released a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. Can you talk a bit about the components of that plan?

When we started discussing a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan for Athletics, we wanted to make sure that we were assembling components that would allow for the most welcoming and inclusive environment. We focused on several pillars: education, representation, awareness, and support/programming. In terms of education, we are focused on educating the community on the history of systemic racism and how faculty, staff, and students can best contribute to the conversation, even if they don’t always have the right words or have all of the knowledge. We want to foster conversations around various topics related to social justice issues. The second pillar, representation, means recognizing that we need to commit to increasing diversity on all levels—including staff and student-athletes. This also means we are cognizant of representation when we are nominating people for leadership positions or awards. Awareness was born out of a desire to make sure that we’re promoting this important initiative community-wide. It is one thing for us to focus on what we’re doing internally, but we should also be thinking about how we can help others understand the importance of these topics. Whether that is through Athlete Ally, Black Lives Matter or other social justice initiatives, we want to make sure that we’re promoting and connecting with other members in the community so we can show that this is important to us. Lastly, the first three pillars are complemented with support and programming as well as the compilation of educational resources and feedback.

In the area of improving hiring practices, many institutions have evaluated their own processes. Has Lafayette done anything to address this area?

Yes! I joined with other colleges and university athletic directors to sign the Collegiate Coaching Diversity Pledge. In doing so, we are committed to including a diverse group of candidates in finalist pools for head coach vacancies in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and football. More than 85 Division I institutions of higher learning have joined to date. I am excited about this pledge. Lafayette also has a strong commitment to ensuring that our hiring procedures are inclusive. We continue to work with our Human Resources staff on our diversity efforts, including representation on our hiring committees, as well as ensure that we have diverse pools for all positions.

How are specific teams supporting student-athletes of color?

I am extremely proud of the efforts of all of our athletic teams to support our diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. Our coaches have done an amazing job participating in our conversations and brainstorming ways in which we can create the most inclusive environment possible. In highlighting just a few, the efforts of the women’s basketball team led to the formation of the Athletes of Color organization, which was spearheaded by three players. They are helping to build an environment for student-athletes of color across campus to feel like they can have a space to engage in conversations. Both men’s soccer and football have engaged with their alumni of color to build mentoring programs for their current players on the teams and really help them in different ways, whether through encouraging discussions about the similarities in their experiences to helping them navigate career success after Lafayette. These initiatives were born out of our DEI efforts. In addition, men’s lacrosse has worked to raise awareness through its Honor the Game initiatives to celebrate the contributions of Native Americans, and a social media campaign for Black History Month. As the AD, I’m proud of all of these efforts, which contribute to an environment where people feel that diversity, equity and inclusion are valued and celebrated. I look forward to seeing more of these types of initiatives among more teams in the future. 

Beyond winning championships, what is your hope for Lafayette Athletics five years from now?

The release of the athletic strategic plan, Creating a Championship Culture, in 2018 is one of the most important things we have done to effectively run an athletics department. We want to make sure that our student-athletes feel like they have the ability to compete at the highest level, that they have a sense of belonging, and that they are happy and healthy in their pursuits while they’re here at Lafayette. I want to know that we’ve created a championship culture and that our student-athletes feel like attending Lafayette was the best decision they could have ever made. In turn, I would hope that they continue to remain engaged as alumni due to their connections with former teammates and coaches, and because their academic experience and early career connections allowed them to land great jobs. All of these things are important, but winning championships is the goal of a successful athletics program. Athletic achievement is something that we strive for every single day.