University of South Carolina students are taking a new class this semester that addresses one of the most important issues facing the sport industry and society at large.
“It was a professional and personal choice to take this class,” says Samantha Roche, a senior majoring in sport and entertainment management. “I wanted to learn more about our history and current challenges with racism, sexism, ageism — and especially with sport and its role in these social issues.”
SPTE 490 is a special topics course offered by South Carolina’s Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, and this semester it is focused on diversity, inclusion and equity in sport management. While the department has offered classes related to diversity before, it is expanding the curriculum to provide students with in-demand knowledge and experience that top employers are looking for.
“I tell the students they are change agents,” says UofSC Adjunct Professor Patrick Hairston. “We have tough conversations, and they gain applicable skills that will help them be more well-rounded professionals and individuals. They want to make a difference.”
The sport industry is at the epicenter of the topic of diversity, inclusion and equity in many ways. Athlete activism, leagues taking positions on social issues, and the industry’s own internal challenges are all in the spotlight.
“Sport and entertainment reach a large and very diverse audience of cultures and people, and its organizations are made up of diverse teams of professionals,” says Hairston. “This industry provides a platform and a voice for positive change, and it also has an opportunity to lead by example.”
The opportunity to lead by example was an inflection point that was felt by many organizations in 2020. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, UofSC’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management held a series of listening sessions that invited Black students and alumni to share input on how the college could support equality in its fields. Offering more classes that address issues of discrimination was at the top of the list, and the next semester that feedback was put into action.
I’m so thankful to the college and department for offering this class and being at the forefront of what is happening in our industry. We aren’t waiting to get to the real world to be part of important work — we are doing it now.
— Samantha Roche, sport and entertainment
The class takes a conversational approach to the topic of diversity and inclusion, breaking the ice on difficult topics of equity with firsthand stories from professionals and thought leaders. Most recently the class had a guest lecture from UofSC Cross Country and Track and Field Coach Curtis Frye and Special Assistant to the Athletic Director Charles Waddell. Frye became the University of South Carolina’s first African American head coach more than 25 years ago, and both he and Waddell are recognized as pioneers in the sport industry.
“It was really impactful to hear their stories and to get a better understanding of what it was like to grow up as a Black man during the time of school integration,” says Hunter Forchetti, a junior majoring in sport and entertainment management. “Offering this class is a step up for the college, because we need a better understanding of different peoples’ perspectives and experiences if we are going to be able to create a more inclusive and equitable future that so many people envision.”
In addition to helping students gain a deeper understanding of the complexities around diversity, inclusion and equity, the new course is also giving them a competitive edge in the job market. In the wake of growing social justice movements in recent years, many top employers are expanding roles dedicated to community relations and equality.
“This class will give students a valuable new skill set that a lot of sport organizations are looking to recruit right now,” said Hairston. “They are gaining a good foundation of knowledge and, most importantly, they have courage.”
Gaining real-world knowledge is a cornerstone of South Carolina’s sport and entertainment management program, and having classes taught by industry leaders is part of its strategy for student success. Hairston has 25 years of leadership experience in sport management as a collegiate athletics administrator, and he is now bringing that experience to the classroom.
“Being on the college listening session last summer was very impactful, and when we began discussing the need to create this course, I knew Dr. Hairston would be the perfect person for the job,” says Sporty Jeralds, the College of HRSM’s assistant dean of diversity and inclusion. “HRSM’s Interim Dean Matt Brown is a champion for diversity and inclusion initiatives, so he fully supported the idea. And, it’s rewarding to have one of my mentees involved in bringing this important class to our students.”
Hairston first met Jeralds when he was interning with the Charlotte Hornets in 1993. Jeralds was the manager of Charlotte Coliseum at the time.
“There were not a lot of African Americans in executive roles, in running venues at that time,” said Hairston. “I connected with Sporty, and he has given me advice throughout my career ever since.”
Hairston also brings to the classroom a firsthand perspective of the positive impact that inclusion and equality initiatives can make.
“I was part of the NCAA diversity and inclusion internship program,” says Hairston. “They saw the need to build a talent pipeline of minorities who could have the opportunity to become leaders and diversify the field, and I am a product of that effort.”
Hairston has served in chief compliance roles for the Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conferences, as assistant director of championships for the NCAA, and in assistant and executive associate athletic director roles for West Virginia University and University of Albany. In addition to his expertise in athletics administration, Hairston has served as an associate professor and sport management program director for University of Valley Forge and has served on numerous NCAA committees during his career.
“I want to give back through teaching,” says Hairston. “I want to help students to begin viewing societal and management issues through a different lens — especially the diversity, equity and inclusion lens — because one day they will be in charge, and they will have the ability to create a more equitable industry. We want to instill in our students to strive for DEI excellence as they enter the sport and entertainment field as change agents.”