Last fall BYU hosted an NCAA forum to explore how LGBTQ and faith-based communities can work more cohesively in college sports and higher education. BYU is the first NCAA Division I institution to host the annual event, called Common Ground.
BYU first joined Common Ground in 2016, sending Elizabeth J. Darger (BS ’00, MS ’04), senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator for BYU athletics. Darger now plays an active role on the Common Ground leadership team.
In his welcome address to Common Ground participants, BYU president Kevin J Worthen (BA ’79, JD ’82) explained that, as a university sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU upholds the belief that all human beings are created in the image of God and each person has a divine nature and destiny.
“When we talk about difficult things, sometimes we may perceive that someone may be attacking something that is important to us or may be mischaracterizing what it is that we believe in,” Worthen said. “But in those difficult situations, we need to be reminded that each of those people is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents. You can call it human dignity, you can call it respect, the value of human beings—it doesn’t have to be a religious term—but that is a very powerful truth that we believe in.”
NCAA vice president of inclusion and human resources Katrice Albert joined President Worthen in opening the forum.
“Over the next 48 hours, I’m going to invite you to have radical hope, . . . to have the courage to be vulnerable,” Albert told attendees. “It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be uncomfortable, you are going to push limits, . . . but in the struggle there is hope.”
Along with the formal meetings, the Common Ground leadership team met with BYU student-athletes and coaches to discuss some of the challenges faced when talking about religion, sexual identity, and other parts of identity. Coaches discussed ways to create a safe environment for athletes. In addition, in an event open to campus the night before the formal meetings, Common Ground leadership team members shared their own stories and how they came to join the Common Ground discussion.
“We talked about the importance of loving God and loving others,” Darger said. “Those are the two great commandments, and I think we often feel like those two things come into conflict with each other. We think we can only do one or the other. I have found, in the last two years as part of this team, that we can do both. We must do both.”