A Conversation with Spartan Athletics’ Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer

Dr. Ashley Baker is chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for Spartan Athletics. She joins Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman on this edition of MSU Today.

“I've worked in college athletics ever since I was an undergraduate student,” Baker says. “And much of my experience has been working directly with student athletes and coaches and being with the academic support side. As I navigated my career, I understood very early on the importance of working with people in our industry and what our environment and the culture of our department meant for people navigating that space.

“Over the course of my career, opportunities like this didn't exist in college athletics. This is something that at least from a formal standpoint, focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion, is something that is more recent in terms of creating these formal roles and embedding these efforts into our overall department goals. Michigan State as a university and as an athletics department is in a unique space right now in that there's so much potential for the direction that we can move in terms of being a leader in college athletics.”

Baker talks about Big Ten and NCAA initiatives in DEI, and she describes the roadmap she’s preparing for Spartan Athletics.

“An important part of my work is looking at our current culture, looking at our traditions, looking at the current social climate, and identifying where we need to make change and create some strategy or planning around the things that we're doing so that we can enhance the experience of our staff, our students, our stakeholders, and our campus as a whole.”

Baker describes her five areas of impact that guide her development of the roadmap: Culture building, assessment and evaluation, education and awareness, recruitment, retention and advancement, and social responsibility and supplier diversity.

“There are specific goals and objectives that fall into those areas that encompass things like creating this DEI plan, reviewing our policies and procedures through an equity lens, tracking our progress as it relates to DEI goals, making sure that our staff feels valued and respected and that we have perspectives that are represented from a variety of different backgrounds and areas, thinking about who we hire as a staff and how we retain our staff and even thinking about how we're serving historically underserved communities that surround our campus and throughout our state.”

Baker’s advice for educating ourselves on DEI issues and initiatives, particularly in the workplace, requires that we be lifelong learners.

“Being learners and educating ourselves and then coming together collectively and being partners in learning is key. And the way that we do that is by informing ourselves and then holding one another accountable. Reading books and listening to podcasts is great, but it also is about diversifying the group of people that we surround ourselves with. It's inviting other perspectives and experiences into our spaces and learning from them and listening and not being the first to be dismissive or say, ‘Well, that doesn't apply to me,’ but really being open to understanding what's happening around us and educating ourselves on it.

“I think it's important not only for us to identify those things for ourselves, but then to come back into our workspaces and share that with one another. So I'm an avid reader. I love to read. I read journal articles. I read books. I'm a researcher at heart, so I love to educate myself and inform myself. But the reality is no one person will know everything. And that is why that shared learning and understanding is so important and that we carry the weight of this work together and we show up in spaces where we are willing to contribute and share authentically who we are and know that that space is going to accept us for who we are. But then also know that we're here to be open minded and listen to one another and take into account different perspectives that will certainly and ultimately help make our space more diverse and more representative of what our world looks like.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870 and streams at WKAR.org. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.