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Salatha Willis discussed his role as Syracuse University’s first associate athletic director for diversity, culture and climate during a virtual press conference Thursday.
SU announced Monday that Willis would take on the position. The role is one of several academic and administrative changes the university is implementing to “to better serve our communities,” Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a release.
Willis previously served as an associate director in Syracuse’s Office of Student-Athlete Academic Development. He was selected for the role, in part, because of his extensive experience working with student-athletes, Director of Athletics John Wildhack said in a Zoom press conference.
Willis and Wildhack during the press conference further discussed the position and plans going forward with fall sports. Here are three takeaways from the conference:
Creation of Willis’ position
The decision to create an associate athletic director for diversity, culture and climate was the result of conversations with SU head coaches, student-athletes, university leaders and alumni in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Wildhack said. He stressed the need to “change and acknowledge the suppression of Black people.”
“I came to the conclusion that to move us forward in this area, we needed someone who was committed and would lead our efforts on a full-time basis,” Wildhack said. “And Salatha’s uniquely qualified to do that.”
Willis, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, is also a former athlete, having spent three seasons as a member of Western Michigan’s basketball team. His experience working with student-athletes, as well as working on the general student body experience at other Universities, also stood out, Wildhack said.
“The outpouring of support I’ve received thus far, in the last two days since this announcement, is absolutely amazing,” Willis said.
Willis’ new role
Though Willis was hesitant to outline the specifics of his role, he said that Wildhack has given him the “full arsenal” of resources to make an impact. Willis will be a member of the athletics cabinet and the athletics senior staff.
“Salatha, as he should, will have a seat at the table and he will be very influential as we move forward with this initiative,” Wildhack said.
One of the first initiatives Willis implemented was the creation of a “student engagement” committee, which had its second meeting Wednesday night. The committee will continue to meet over the summer and into the fall to address social issues and develop “programmatic change and symbolic change,” Willis said.
The goal is to create initiatives that will “be bred into everything we do in athletics,” he said. Part of the impact Willis hopes to make is within the athletics department itself, as he will be a member of hiring committees.
Status of fall sports
The Ivy League on Wednesday afternoon became the first conference to announce that fall sports will be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was “anticipated,” Wildhack said, and will “not necessarily” impact the Atlantic Coast Conference’s plans aside from those involving games scheduled with Ivy League schools.
The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, however, reported Thursday morning that the ACC is expected to cancel all fall sports competitions until Sept. 1.
Wildhack, who is a member of the ACC football subcommittee that meets bi-weekly, said the goal remains to play a full football season. However, Wildhack stressed that multiple options remain on the table and the conference has and continues to create models that account for different scenarios in the fall, including an abbreviated or conference-only schedule.
“There’s so much still unknown, still to be decided, that’s why there are so many different scenarios and the conference office is working diligently on those,” Wildhack said. “You’ve got to have multiple options.”
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