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cut and arranged paper to resemble Keith Embray


Pamela Bishop: Hello, everyone. I’m Pamela Bishop. I’m the senior director of marketing and communications for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), and today I have the pleasure of speaking with Keith Embray. Keith Embray is an alum of the university and he has recently rejoined the university in a dual capacity. He is an executive director for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion here in EDI, and he is also an associate athletic director for equity, diversity, and inclusion and student belonging within the Athletics division.

So we’re thrilled to have Keith here today. And I just want to start off, Keith, tell us a little bit about yourself. As I mentioned, you’re an alum of the university and tell us what attracted you to this position.

Keith Embray: Good morning. Thank you. Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to kind of talk about my university in a very positive way. I am an alum. I was also fortunate to have been a student-athlete here. I jokingly would tell people I was a gymnast and everybody would look at me and be like, “Oh, you kind of let yourself go a little bit.”

No, I was fortunate to have been a football student-athlete here under Coach Ron McBride. And one of the things that brought me here, even as an undergraduate, is essentially the same thing that brought me back here as well, which is the value of an education. The tremendous mentorship that I was given here at the University of Utah from not only my coaches, Coach Ron McBride, and members of that staff, but also from folks like Dr. Ronald Coleman were at the time was vice president for faculty diversity.

He was the first appointee. So I think it’s very ironic that one of my mentors who still to this day is like a father to me, I am coming back in almost a similar type role that Dr. Coleman started and Teresa Martinez. Dr. Martinez in the Sociology department from my graduate studies is a long list of folks that — I don’t want to offend, but at the same time want to give that shout-out to.

So when I got called back home, it was a … an effort between two wonderful women that have the best interest of the University of Utah at their heart, that would be Charmelle Green, who’s the deputy athletic director who was also a former student-athlete, all-American softball player and in our Hall of Fame. And then there’s Dr. Mary Ann Villarreal, who also has a great affinity for the University of Utah and oversees the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion division.

And they put their heads together. You bring in an athletic director as well, and it was one of those things, too, where this is just the right thing to do in so many, so many ways. And this is after 13 years and student-athlete development, three different institutions, the University of Notre Dame, Central Florida. And then most recently, I was at Penn State University for just under six years.

So again, between Charmelle, Mary Ann, Mark Harlan — our athletics director — it was something that had been in the works, and it was just what is the right position to bring back somebody who has a great affinity for a university that’s given me so much.

Pamela Bishop: That’s wonderful. You know, it’s great that you, when you have an opportunity to come home and you’ve contributed, like you said, as a student-athlete, so you walked in the shoes of our student-athletes. So I think it’s just great that you’re here and your position is one of just a few across the country, the first in the PAC-12 to really bring together equity, diversity, inclusion and infuse into athletics. And as you know, most of, many of our athletes need to see role models like you. So I think that it’s just outstanding that you’re in this position. So tell us a little bit about what you hope to accomplish in this new position.

Keith Embray: The greatest thing and what drew me back and in all honesty, in my recruitment, Mary Ann and Charmelle did a heck of a job, and then also athletic director Mark Harlan. But I had initial reservations. You know, Pamela, student development. I’m boots-on-the-ground kind of person, so I’ve always been in that thing. My comfort level has been on-the-ground working with our student-athletes one-on-one group settings, all these different kind of things. And then I was reassured by Mary Ann especially that, but you’ve been doing this work, you know, in the development of student-athletes. You’re working with their holistic development, so not only as a student, as an athlete, but ultimately as a person. And at the core of equity, diversity, and inclusivity work, that’s what it’s about. People want to be seen. People want to be heard. They want to be valued. So I essentially have been doing that and had to be made sure to be convinced that, you know, you can do the same thing, but more on a strategic level.

So when you ask, what are some of my initial goals and things that I look to accomplish in this position?

First and foremost, some of the best advice I ever got, Pamela, was under-promise and overdeliver. That’s number one. We have a tendency to want to come in and do ten, 15 things and then we don’t necessarily, maybe, execute them to the best of our abilities. And then that leaves a degree of disappointment as well. But if we come in and find some things that we can get some immediate wins and build some energy and have people first and foremost understand what the work is and what we’re trying to accomplish, then you build a coalition of the willing until people build relationships, before you build programs.

So that’s my number one priority, Pamela, is to build relationships across our entire campus. That’s my directive for Mary Ann, vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, is to build those relationships across campus because Athletics is outward-facing. Many people refer to it as the front porch of a college or university and the things that they do. The university has a tendency as a whole to also follow and be aligned with, and it’s also a very prominent way to display what we do here at the University of Utah, what it’s reflected to our student-athletes, our coaches as well. So my number one priority is to build relationships, to educate not only myself, but also my peers across the campus. You know, what it is in the day in the life of a student-athlete? What are some of the challenges? But also to remind all Athletics and the university as a whole that we make a commitment to these young people and their holistic development. So it has to be more than just their athletics, more than just their academics. Are we developing people and are we developing leaders to go forward? And typically, nobody is better than a student-athlete as far as if you can get them to be leaders in your universities.

Pamela Bishop: Yeah, you make an outstanding point that athletics is often the front line and people see Athletics for the University of Utah among the most that they see the university, you know. And so I think it’s great that we are infusing equity, diversity, inclusion into that work because it often is the personality that people interface most with at the university. So I think you have a great opportunity to do that. And I really like the fact that you’re talking about the intersection of, you know, a student and athlete and their, you know, their gender, their ethnicity, how all that plays into who they are — their sexual orientation — all of that. And so I think that this is a really forward-thinking of the university to have someone in your role. We often, since the athletes are sort of — Athletics is sort of the front line you get, as you will, from any on there. You know, people wonder what do you think the role is of students and student-athletes in this work of EDI?

Keith Embray: Outstanding, and you said something that I said, let me make sure and touch on this. Because, you know, Pamela, when you talked about the numerous identities that student-athletes have, I would be remiss that that is an ultimate goal moving in this position, in this new position as well, and why it also has a dual report, which is to give it that, you know, that “oomph” and to also give that thing of– is typically not a lack of resources, is typically a lack of the utilization of resources or not knowing where those resources are. So our student-athletes is a demographic, like you said, they represent everything from socioeconomics, educational backgrounds, orientation, faith, all these different things makes them more than just an athlete. So I really appreciate that you pointed that out. But that’s also a big part of one of my goals is like, are we embracing all the pieces of them, and do they know where they can go to be embraced?

That’s the student belonging piece that our AD and our deputy athletic director were adamant was included in my title as well, is about student belonging. As far as kind of the student-athlete, the athlete period we’ve seen become more and more prominent in many ways. But I am also here to give us some historical perspective as an undergraduate student in history, very proudly so here from the University of Utah.

You know, I think about the you know, the Cleveland Summit to when Muhammad Ali called his dear friend Jim Brown, and this when he refused to be admitted, to take admission into the Army and go fight. And so a lot of his peers at their time and there was a very famous picture that I showed my student-athletes and even my coaches, where many of them didn’t agree with Muhammad Ali’s stance.

But the thing that he asked was, “let me speak to my peers and explain why I’m passionate about this. And if you don’t agree with me, I still respect you. But I want to make sure that you understand why I want to do this.” So athletes have always prominently — the late Bill Russell, great Bill Russell that just passed away, you know, was arguably one of the greatest civil rights figures in advocacy as an athlete because of what he stood for and the things that he spoke up about every time there was an injustice, every time there was a wrong. And then when things happened to him, he didn’t lash out. He followed the things of Dr. King. In many ways, Arthur Ashe’s of the world. There’s a tremendous role models — Billie Jean King — for student-athletes to follow. So, yes, they have a tremendous voice, but if you look at many of those people, they had guidance. They had people that they could learn from and they had people that helped prepare them.

So, you know, once you hit “send” in our day and age, you can’t take it back. Every tweet, every post, you know, once you put it out there for the world, it’s there to consume. It’s there to deconstruct. No context may or may not be provided to what you’re saying. So I’m here to also help our student-athletes understand that, “know what you say and say what you know and use it, you’ll get in trouble.” And the other thing is to help our young people understand there should always be education, conversation, and then ultimately communication to what is it you want to do and how do you want to go about doing it. So yeah, they play a very prominent role. These are some talented, gifted young people. They have access to more information than any generation before them, we just need — We need to help guide them. My grandfather said, “there’s a huge difference,” my great grandfather, “between knowledge and wisdom.” And he told me, “knowledge is, you know, technically knowing that a tomato is a fruit and wisdom is knowing if you put tomatoes in a fruit salad, nobody’s gonna eat it.” Okay? So I’ve never forgotten that. And that’s how I will look to work with — and I’ve always worked with student-athletes. You may be very knowledgeable but unwise in application of what you know. And then when we talk about these issues of politics and race and sexual orientation, we have to really help guide them because they’re passionate. But they do have a voice. They do have thoughts. So you can’t squash it, you can’t swell it. But if you help guide it, if you help educate them, then it’s even more powerful.

Pamela Bishop: It’s funny, I can always count on you to have a great quote. I love that quote about the tomatoes. I’ve got to steal that. But you’re right. I mean, so many of these students, they now have such great big platforms and they can be such a great voice for this work. And to your point, they need to be guided and need to have full knowledge and wisdom about what to do.

So I’m so glad that you are in this position. I think that the university is fortunate to have this position. And again, I applaud the University of Utah. This is what we look like when we say we want to be a world leader in campus transformation through equity, diversity, and inclusion. So we may not be the most diverse campus around, but we want to be a leader and putting positions like yours in place and others that we put in place are really going to put us on the forefront of this campus transformation.

So thank you so much for your time. We look forward to all the great things that you’re going to do and the relationships that you’re going to build. And you know, everybody, please just visit our website. Keith is new, so we don’t have anything up there yet except for that he’s here and we’re glad to have him. But just, you know, visit our website from time to time and just to see. And I know we’ll be partnering with Athletics putting things up on their website, so just be mindful of that and we look forward to all the great things that will come from this role. Thank you, Keith.

Keith Embray: Thank you so much, Pamela.

EDI  Spotlight