Skip to main content Skip to footer

To The Top with Jon Gilbert - Diversity As Our Advantage

Nov. 30, 2017



When did you first hear of the concept of Diversity?


I Thank My Parents

Diversity can (and does) mean so many things to so many different people, but a common definition of diversity is: the recognition of different, dissimilar, or varied things.


With that definition in mind, I first learned about diversity from my Parents – at their side, watching them always model respect for others as I grew up in Florida. On rides to school, walking through grocery stores, in all my athletic pursuits, my Parents were my role models and my guides.


Today, next to my faith and my family, I embrace diversity each day as one of the very most important priorities in my life. It’s in every breath I take, and I give thanks to my Parents for instilling such an appreciation for the diversity in our world, in all its forms.


It was my Parents who taught me to have an appreciation for the differences in all of us. And it was my Parents who engrained and drove the Golden Rule into my heart and my being – the principles of kindness and respect (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). Business author John Maxwell reminds us that the Golden Rule is in fact, a near-universal and foundational principle across the array of our world’s cultures and belief systems.  


The Importance of Diversity

For many years in Intercollegiate Athletics, I have witnessed firsthand the importance and power of diversity, in so many forms and in so many places. I’ve heard it said that the "case for diversity" suggests that an organization that employs a diverse workforce (men and women, people of different generations, people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, people with different employment experiences, and so on) – that organization (and our own Department of Athletics) is better able to understand, and then plan, and then serve its own broad base of constituents. I love the thought that diversity acknowledges that “no one of us” is as smart as “all of us.” I love the thought that diversity acknowledges that we are going to benefit from the opinions and experiences and perspectives of others. And we will!


I have a good friend that constantly reminds me that Diversity (and inclusion) should be treated as an “environmental issue” – stressing that it is as important as the quality of the air we breathe, or the quality of the water we drink, as it affects each and every one of us, each and every day.


So, with our Mission and Guiding Principles at Southern Miss Athletics, as a Department we pledge to do our best to celebrate diversity at every turn. I’d like to think that at the end of every successful priority, every goal, every project and every task – in the end – we’ll be able to say that our differences are what made us better, stronger and more effective. In this way, Diversity becomes our incredible and enduring advantage, for each and every person, in each and every facet of our Department.


Our Efforts at Southern Miss Athletics

When I arrived on the job in late February 2017, one of the most important orders of the day was to meet with each member of my Staff and Coaches. The meetings were incredible. I was struck with the differences in thoughts and opinions and experiences, and the like. We are indeed a diverse lot in many ways – from our professional Staff, to our Coaches and Student-Athletes.


As an aside, just last week, I approached Jack Duggan (our Assistant AD of Media Relations) to inquire about our Student-Athletes and where they call home. The answer might surprise you. I knew we might have Student-Athletes from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.


But I was so pleasantly surprised to learn that we also have Student-Athletes from Australia, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Senegal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan. How cool is that?


So, when people ask me how we have been able to accomplish so much, in such a short period of time, I always think of the combined talents of “all of us.” In fact, our Diversity of thought has served us well. Former Presidential Advisor Theodore Sorensen stated:


The interaction of many minds is usually more illuminating than the intuition of one.


How true!


In order to promote and advance Diversity and inclusive thought within our Department of Athletics, we have assembled a Special Project Team. By the end of the year, their charge is for our Department of Athletics to produce our own Statement on Diversity. When we consider what is at stake, consider the words of Maya Angelou. She stated:


It is time for parents to teach young people early on

that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.


Our statement on Diversity will certainly suggest that we are interested in your thoughts as well. So, if you would like to share your thoughts on the growth and wellbeing of our Department, I would invite you to contact the leaders of our Special Project Team, or any of our Department Leaders. We appreciate any of your suggestions for improvement as we strive to guide and inspire our Student-Athletes – academically, athletically and personally – and all in support of the educational mission of our great University.


Daniel Feig               

Sonya Varnell          

Caroline Bevillard   


In Closing

Please know that one of the primary roles of our Department Leaders and Coaches is to embrace and drive diversity into, and throughout the Department each and every day. The process is certain to open our minds, open our mouths, and open our hearts to create a flow and exchange of ideas that move the program forward. Let the best ideas win. It is our best ideas that will solve our problems and advance our organization. I believe Thomas Edison said it best:


There’s a way to do it better. Find it!


Diversity in all its forms is becoming a powerful and sustainable advantage for our Department of Athletics, and our University, as together we head… To The Top!



Online Store