On April 11, men’s basketball Head Coach Ed Cooley became the first black head coach in Fairfield history.

“[University President] Fr. [Jeffrey] von Arx and other administrators have a strategic plan for creating a more diverse community,” Cooley said. “You have to start somewhere and I think they took a very big step when they hired myself. They made a statement about what their vision is for the future.”

The hiring of Cooley came as von Arx tries to address the need for greater diversity for Fairfield students, faculty and administration.

“Diversity is important on campus because it offers a much deeper and more profound experience for all students,” von Arx said in an interview with The Mirror. “The more experience one has of understanding and coming to respect people from different backgrounds and points of view, the more rich one’s own educational experience is.”

One of the goals associated with this vision involves creating a more diverse student body, which, according to PrincetonReview.com, is currently 91 percent white. Student- athletes are one of the bright spots at Fairfield in terms of student diversity. For example, just about half of the men’s and women’s basketball players enrolled at Fairfield belong to a minority race or ethnicity.

“We have always tried within our structure to follow what is the university mission,” said Fairfield Athletic Director Gene Doris.

“In general among athletic teams, diversity is accomplished a little easier because you have individuals working toward a goal,” Doris said. “From that perspective, we have an advantage in many ways of making diversity work.”

The basketball teams’ statistics are not unique in Division I college basketball, however. According to the 2004 Racial and Gender Report Card, compiled by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in sport, 68.4 percent of Division I male basketball players were of minority background (53.2 percent for female).

Ivana Podrug ’06, a women’s basketball player from Croatia, joins the many student-athletes, students and administrators who believe that there is always room for improvement when it comes to diversity at Fairfield.

“Basically, the only teams that I know of that have international or minority players are mostly men’s and women’s basketball and men’s soccer,” Podrug said. “Bringing in people with different backgrounds and life experiences will make this campus better and people’s college experiences better.”

Said Mike Eromin ’06, who serves as a manager for the men’s basketball team: “Diversity on campus adds to the college experience because the United States is made up of growing diversity, and college is supposed to prepare you for the real world … I was able to meet and interact with athletes like Deng Gai ’05 and Mamadou Diakhate ’07 and I came to appreciate where they have come from, and I felt that added to my college experience.”

Doris agreed that diversity is needed.

“It is very clear, looking at the demographics in the country going forward, that institutions and athletic departments that do not embrace diversity are going to be short-changing themselves,” he said, “because the pool of applicants that are going to be out there is going to be heavily diverse.”

Larri Mazon, the chair of the President’s Institutional Diversity Council, which started working in February of this year, will oversee the projects to encourage diversity. The council was put in place by von Arx and will recommend new programs and monitor their success.

“This year we are working on admissions, policies and procedures as it relates to diversity,” said Mazon. “The integration of the Federal TRIO programs (Upward Bound, Talent Search and Excel) into mainstream services of the university and the expansion of a summer scholars’ program, which would bring a number of students on campus for four weeks during the summer.”

Will Johnson, the admissions department’s associate director for diversity, said of the program, “We are planning to run an academic achievement program where we have identified a number of AHANA [African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American] students who would like to participate in that program to give them an early introduction to Fairfield.”

According to Johnson, the admissions team is also on the lookout to create new opportunities for minorities.

“We are traveling to recruit students in areas that are diverse in order to attract more diverse students,” said Johnson. “We are playing an active role in terms of outreach in the community, letting students in rural or urban areas who may be unfamiliar with Fairfield and the college admissions process. Our incoming class is shaping up to be one of the more diverse classes Fairfield has ever seen – especially in terms of ethnic diversity.”

Cooley is ready to move Fairfield forward in this direction.

“The plans are in place. Now it has to be executed,” he said.

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