By Allen Wallace, firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on September 29, 2020
Everybody matters. It is a simple but powerful answer to the question, “Why is diversity and inclusion important?” It captures the guiding philosophy of Adonis “Sporty” Jeralds, the new assistant dean of diversity and inclusion at the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management.
“I'm looking forward to hopefully making a positive difference," says Jeralds, who has built a reputation for making a positive difference since joining the college in 2007 as a faculty member. As an instructor, he has led by example on management lessons in mentorship and nurturing people’s potential. He is also known for infusing his expertise in motivational speaking into his inspirational leadership style — a skill that will bring tremendous value in helping to lift others up.
Jeralds’ new role gives a college-wide platform for his positivity and passion for bringing out the best in everyone. His responsibilities as the college’s first full-time diversity and inclusion officer include creating programs, practices, policies and partnerships that enrich the college experience for all students and help to recruit underrepresented faculty and staff. He will also work closely with University Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Julian Williams to keep the college in tune with university-wide efforts.
One of his first priorities is to increase awareness and understanding of the value and importance of diversity and inclusion through guest lectures, engagement initiatives and curriculum design.
A lot of times after a thundershower, the sun will come back out, and if you're paying attention, there are rainbows. They are beautiful, but you have to be looking for the rainbow. We have to raise our consciousness to realize the value in our collective differences.
— Sporty Jeralds, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion
"A lot of times after a thundershower, the sun will come back out, and if you're paying attention, there are rainbows. They are beautiful, but you have to be looking for the rainbow,” Jeralds says. “We have to raise our consciousness to realize the value in our collective differences.”
Strengthening the college’s culture of consciousness will serve as a foundation to expand its diversity and inclusion initiatives, including student and employee recruitment, leadership development and representation, mentorship, and student scholarships that support equal access to enrichment opportunities such as study abroad, industry conferences and student club participation. The efforts will support a broad range of underrepresented groups, including people from different racial, ethnic and gender minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Jeralds says the new role is not one he sought out, but after listening to students share their feelings and ideas on needed changes, he felt it was an important way for him to serve.
"I just don't think everybody has an appreciation" of the issues faced by minority students, Jeralds says, adding that he sees his role as one that will improve things for everyone in the college community.
"Diversity is the ‘what’ when we talk about what everybody brings. Inclusion is ‘how,’ how we involve all of those differences to create the best college possible."
Jeralds was the beneficiary as a young adult of mentors who saw the value of diversity and inclusion, helping spark his desire to help others as they helped him. He speaks fondly of Andy Greenwell, who hired him at the Hampton Virginia Coliseum in 1983, launching his stellar career in venue management.
"I was 24, he was 54. He was an older white guy; I was a Black kid. He saw value in me, in someone who was totally different from him," Jeralds says. "Embracing differences and seeing the potential in people is what we want to see from everybody in our college, because everybody has value. If someone is willing to put in the work, having someone believe in them can be that bridge, that thing that helps get them to where they want to be."
Jeralds also works with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets as a special advisor for community tickets, helping maintain the team’s active connection with potentially underserved groups. He says he sees part of his new role with HRSM as ensuring that the college’s commitment to diversity and inclusion continues to be more than just something on paper.
"You can't just say ‘I'm committed to diversity,’” he says. "It has to be more active: something we try to do every single day. It takes work."
That work is something Jeralds hopes to see pay off exponentially as the college’s alumni go on to lead the hospitality, retail and sport management industries, carrying that culture of consciousness with them. He knows that there are those in the world who will not approve of the push but is determined to move forward anyway.
"There are going to be some people who for whatever reason will not understand why this is so important, but I can't stop trying to help them understand,” he says. "You just hope they have that one experience that changes their heart."