Photo by Josh Wenger/Nebraska Communications

4th Annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit Unites Nebraska Athletics

By NU Athletic Communications

Lincoln, NE – At roughly 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, February 10, student-athletes slowly began to pour through the doors of the Bob Devaney Sports Center. This is a fairly common scene, as Husker student-athletes routinely enter through these doors for various reasons, such as practice or competition. It was unusual in the sense that after all was said and done, over 500 student-athletes would be present inside the Devaney Center to join together for one overarching reason: diversity and inclusion.

This past week, Nebraska Athletics hosted its 4th Annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit, aimed at spreading awareness and educating student-athletes and staff on the two aforementioned ideals. Following Sunday’s gathering of student-athletes, over 250 staff members jumpstarted their work week by attending a similar Summit the very next morning.

The event featured appearances from two sets of guest speakers. Special Olympics Ambassador Rachel Mulligan and the B2Wins, a musical duo comprised of Brazilian brothers Walter and Wagner Caldas, traveled to Lincoln to share their respective stories. The theme of the Summit was “Power of Sport; Power of Music.”

Now a Special Olympics Ambassador, Mulligan has experienced first-hand how embracing diversity and inclusion can pave the road to a better world. In March of 2017, Mulligan traveled to Austria to compete in the Special Olympics Winter World Games. By the time she returned, Mulligan was freshly equipped with two medals, one from the 500-meter freestyle race and one from the 1-kilometer freestyle race.

“Special Olympics taught me not to be afraid, to challenge myself, and to discover new things,” said Mulligan, addressing the student-athletes late Sunday night. “I want to get all of you out of your comfort zone and try something new. What are you going to discover?”

At its core, Mulligan’s message is precisely what diversity and inclusion is all about: opening one’s arms, being open minded, and discovering the endless opportunities that lie beyond all things new and seemingly unfamiliar. Throughout her remarks, both the student-athletes and staff listened intently as Mulligan relayed her personal story.

Following Mulligan’s speech, Summit attendees were asked to put her message into practice. DaWon Baker, Nebraska Athletics’ Diversity and Inclusion Director, introduced a group activity that encouraged everyone to share a portion of their own personal story with those at their table. They were then asked to find common bonds between each other’s stories and come up with a word that linked them all together.

After having the opportunity to learn more about one another, it was time for the B2Wins to take control of the stage. An introductory video educated the crowd on the twins’ background, in which they arrived in Iowa from Brazil on music scholarships and not knowing the slightest bit of English.

“Language was a huge barrier for us,” said Wagner Caldas. But stereotypes, not really. We never focused too much on the idea of people looking at us in a different way. We just wanted to be ourselves and be happy and make other people happy.”

Even though they knew very little about the country, these two brothers traveled to America to pursue their musical dreams. Throughout their lives, the Caldas twins have experienced their fair share of discrimination, yet the ideals they preached on Sunday and Monday showed no resentment. Rather, the duo exudes happiness and acceptance in all that they do.

“If I were to say something to help you on your run in life, number one, don’t overthink,” Wagner said. “If you accept people for who they are, I’m sure it’s going to be way easier for you to be accepted for who you are.”

For Wagner, the transition from life in Brazil to being a music student in Iowa is not the only challenge he has faced in life. Wagner is also a cancer survivor. Similar to his move to the United States, his battle with cancer helped frame the way he views life, as well as the way he feels other people should be treated.

“Throughout my fight with cancer, I learned a couple things,” said Wagner. “Number one, we all have hard times in life. Number two, it could be worse. We all have problems. So, when we’re on this stage, it’s way beyond the music. We try to make that moment a moment that our audience forgets about the problems. We want to make them feel accepted, feel welcome, feel important.”

All over the world, Diversity and Inclusion Summits such as this one exist to instill this exact mindset. As a means of further illustrating the importance of accepting others, five student-athletes took the stage as the B2wins performed a song for those in attendance.

Zemua Baptista (Wrestling), Mohamed Barry (Football), Emily Cheramie (Rifle), Angela Mercurio (Track & Field), and Zach Peters (Gymnastics) all took a brief moment to detail personal anecdotes surrounding diversity and inclusion. This final act brought the Summit’s message full circle, as student-athletes and staff were able relate the words of Mulligan and the Caldas brothers to the world of college athletics.

By 11 a.m. on Monday morning, the B2Wins were packing up their set and the athletic staff members were on their way back to work. By the end of the day, one would be hard pressed to tell such an event had ever taken place inside the Devaney Center. Yet, the Diversity and Inclusion Summit was not planned with the goal of putting on an extravagant show or leaving a physical trail behind in its place.

Rather, the Summit’s goal is oriented toward how we address the future and how we interact with one another in the days to come. It is a way of instilling change and improving upon the interpersonal culture of our everyday lives.

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of standing up when you see diversity or inclusion having some problem around you,” said Walter Caldas. Say, ‘hey, this is not right, I think there is another way you could take care of it.’ You could even become friends with that person. Don’t be afraid of being yourself.”

As staff members returned to their everyday schedules with these words in mind, Pablo Rangel, a Learning Specialist in the Academics department, took a moment to reflect on the Summit.

“For our university and our athletic department to prioritize information and acceptance through diversity and inclusion, we all have a better place to live,” he said.

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