In response to several racist and divisive incidents at AU, including the posting of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic fliers on campus last winter, the American University Athletics Department will host its inaugural “Unity In Our Community” event in February in conjunction with the men’s basketball team’s game against Holy Cross.
The gathering, set for Feb. 2 in Bender Arena, will celebrate AU’s community while promoting diversity and inclusion throughout AU and its surrounding neighborhood in the wake of bigoted acts on campus.
The “Unity In Our Community” event came about when Robert Sherman, AU’s assistant athletics director for marketing and corporate partnerships, was tasked with organizing an “action learning project” while he was participating in American University’s 21st Century Leadership Institute back in fall 2017.
The 21st Century Leadership Institute is a selective development program in which participants, invited by University President Sylvia Burwell, came together once a month for six months to work on a project to apply their “classroom learning to real organizational issues,” according to a university description of the program. The goal is to develop leaders within the University, and Sherman hopes to use his experience in the athletic department to forge change at AU.
“Historically, sport has been known for bringing people and communities together, especially in challenging times,” Sherman said.
Sherman wanted to ensure that his department remained a focal point of campus life through his project. He said he wants sporting events to be primary points of engagement and pride for the entire university community.
“The game will aim to bring together all reaches and constituent groups of the extended AU community, from both on and off campus, in a fun, social setting cheering on our Eagles as one community united,” Sherman said.
Sherman said he hopes to put together a committee of representatives from different campus departments and work with student organizations to help coordinate the event’s programming.
While the event is still in its early stages of planning, its agenda plans to showcase AU’s uniqueness and diversity, Sherman said. The programming will take place before, during and after the game, including pre-game, post-game, halftime and during timeouts.
“A goal is to also celebrate the actions and hard work of leaders on campus who have helped to start the healing process and change our campus climate for the better,” Sherman said.
Although no formal invitations to the event have been sent out yet, Sherman hopes to draw not only students to the event, but also staff and faculty, alumni and neighbors of AU, as “we are all Eagles,” he said.
Sherman hopes to expand on other departments’ programming surrounding diversity and inclusion by bringing the discussion to a fun and social setting.
“[The Athletic Department is] always looking for new initiatives to blend in with established campus traditions in and around our games and special events, using our platform to reach all reaches of our extended campus community,” he said.