Listen: Interview with UNL's New Diversity AD, Dr. Lawrence Chatters

Aug. 6, 2021, 5:45 a.m. ·

Dr. Lawrence Chatters speak at a podium into a microphone. Heads of the audience he's speaking to can be seen out of focus in the foreground
Dr. Lawrence Chatters started the role of Senior Associate Athletic Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Monday, August 2. (Photo courtesy of Husker Athletics)

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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) recently hired a Senior Associate Athletic Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Lawrence Chatters. Nebraska Public Media News spoke with Dr. Chatters about diversity and its relation to UNL athletics and college athletics as a whole.

AARON BONDERSON, NEBRASKA PUBLIC MEDIA: So you were hired in late July and started a few days ago. How does your position affect UNL athletics and its athletes?

DR. LAWRENCE CHATTERS: Bringing me in is really a process that is a continuation of a role that had been created a couple years back that was actually taken over by DaWon Baker. This recent role and the elevation of this role to the senior administrative level was for a number of reasons. One of those being that they wanted to have a person similar to DaWon but at a senior level that could help from more of an administrative perspective and have an impact on inclusion and equity and diversity efforts within the athletic department for staff, as well as student athletes, and then also to liaise with the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Office here at UNL.

BONDERSON: You have your graduate and PhD degrees from UNL, more recently served as Midland University's Chief Diversity Officer. What did you learn from your time in that position at Midland and how will that play into your work at your alma mater?

DR. CHATTERS: What I would say I learned at Midland was just the importance of being able to connect with everybody on the campus, especially the students, who are the people that we are here to serve, and understanding who they are, what their cultures are, and what they would like to see the institution do in regard to supporting and providing inclusion opportunities for students from all different types of cultures. I really was able to cut my teeth at Midland University in that way, where athletics was incredibly important, I think, really prepared me for this opportunity, in that we utilize the leverage that coaches have to be mentors and leaders, and role models for their student athletes to lead this charge. I better understood that through working closely with the coaches and getting them to understand how these different components work and impact the performance of their student athletes. I was able to leverage those relationships to reach the student athletes and get support from the student athletes in the programming that I did that focused on DEI at Midland. And the plan is really to do the same thing here at Nebraska.

BONDERSON: What challenges does UNL have in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion?

DR. CHATTERS: When you think about just how many different types of people we have at this university and then narrow in on the athletic department and this overall goal that we have of our teams to win championships and be competitive at the highest level, there's a few things we have to consider there. Number one, do those teams come together, get to know each other well, and learn more about each other? And are they a cohesive unit so that they can move together toward those goals? And do those students that come here feel that their athletic department is supportive of them, regardless of what their cultural background is, or some of the unique challenges that they faced in their upbringing? When we think about those two pieces, that's really going to be the main objective of my work here is making sure that I recognize and understand the depth and the breadth of the diversity here in our department and across campus, and then leverage an understanding of that diversity and inclusion component to make sure that our department is competitively inclusive. And when I say competitively inclusive, I mean, one of the most inclusive athletic departments in the country. We want to compete here in everything. And I think making sure that we're a space that accepts all the students that come our way to choose to wear the N and compete is incredibly important in that regard.

BONDERSON: You're the first hire by the new Athletic Director Trev Alberts. What are your thoughts on working in the athletic department under the new leadership?

DR. CHATTERS: There's a palpable energy in the athletic department. And I am really happy to work with Trev Alberts. And, you know, it's clear to me that he's a competitive guy, and he wants us to be the best at Diversity, Equity and Inclusion here at Nebraska. And I'm excited about that, because I think that there's so much positive that can come from us, making sure that our culture here in the athletic department and across campus is incredibly inclusive. I think when you create a space where people can blossom, you get more people to plant themselves there. I think that's really what I'm excited about is the fact that he's excited and knowledgeable about DEI and wants to continue moving things forward in that regard. And I feel, ultimately, the support of the department and to return, after starting here five years ago as an intern, and to have the opportunity to serve on the senior leadership team under new leadership and great support, it's just an absolutely amazing feeling, and I'm extremely energized to get to work.

BONDERSON: College athletics right now are an ever-evolving entity. There's conference realignment and name, image, likeness. How do you feel stepping into such a changing industry?

DR. CHATTERS: To me it's exciting. We all as human beings try to tend toward being better and becoming hopefully more efficient in what we do. I think that we're maybe doing that in college athletics right now. We’re leaning toward something new. Honestly, it can be a bit scary sometimes to venture off into the unknown, but what I've seen is that we've learned a lot in this process so far, and I think there's some tweaks that can be made in a lot of different areas that can make things better, especially a better student athlete experience. I'm hoping that we learn new things in that process and we see new possibilities and I'm all about new possibilities and imagining what could be and moving toward that vision.