by Amber Charleville
Earlier this semester, I had the privilege of sitting down with UMKC’s Director of Athletics, Carla Wilson. It was a true delight to talk with her about UMKC, the Athletics Department, and Feminism.
Ms. Wilson was appointed to Director of Athletics on December 2, 2013, but she’d been serving as interim director for five months prior to that, as well as being UMKC’s Senior Woman Administrator. She has a long history of service with UMKC, receiving her bachelor’s degree in accounting here in 1988 and working for the university ever since.
Of course, those are all facts anyone can snag from her official bio, but I wanted to really understand her roles and her vision for UMKC Athletics. Ms. Wilson shared with me that over the years she’s supervised 14 of the 16 sports at UMKC, overseen budgeting for the entire department, and sat on several committees around campus, including the Chancellor’s Advisory Board to the Women’s Center.
Listening to her story is truly inspiring. She has worked her way from an entry level university position to Director of Athletics, the only female athletics director in the Western Athletic Conference. She also explained that the title “Senior Woman Administrator” is not a specific position. It is a title held in addition to someone’s role within the senior staff of an athletics department.
“It came out of the fact that there were lots of men at the top, making all the decisions, and they wanted to make sure there was a viable counterpart, a female voice that was making sure the interest of all the students, the female athletes were taken into account. From female coaches getting equal pay and the needs of female students, making sure their needs were being met.”
If face, she explained that when the Athletics Director is a woman, she can either keep the Senior Woman Administrator designation, or she can appoint another female member of the staff to the role, giving two empowered female voices to the department. She intends to pass that designation on.
We also discussed some of Ms. Wilson’s goals for UMKC athletics. She has several, but I was thrilled to hear that her top priority is the well being of her student athletes. “Everything we need to do here should center around student athlete success.” You get the sense listening to Ms. Wilson that she cares very deeply for all of her students, male and female, and that she will always have their best interests at heart as she works to make UMKC’s athletics department truly great.
“Academics are first and foremost,” she says, stressing that the current cumulative GPA for the 224 student athletes is 3.24. And that’s not to leave behind athletic excellence, either. Her goal is to start in the top 1/3rd of the Western Athletics Conference and move up from there.
She also laid out the expectation that the student athletes support other campus activities beyond sports. We here at the Women’s Center know all about that as the Athletics Department sponsors the participation of all their athletes in our Walk-A-Mile fundraiser. (For more information on Walk-A-Mile, which is this May, please see here.)
Our conversation also covered the importance of having strong women role models (for both young women and men), Ms. Wilson’s approach to feminism, and her work with the Women’s Center.
“Being a woman, it is very important to me that women, whether they’re students or people in the community, that we are making sure that we are celebrating women who do great things, that we’re providing programming, that we’re making people aware of what’s going on.”
Overall, I could not have been more impressed and inspired by my conversation with Ms. Wilson. She cares deeply about the community, this university, and all the students in it, athletes and non-athletes alike. She understands that people might be watching her a little more closely, waiting for the first woman to be the Director of Athletics here at UMKC to underachieve. But I for one will be watching, knowing that she is going to do great things for our Athletics Department and this school in general.
Thank you again to Ms. Wilson and her staff for arranging this interview. It was an amazing opportunity.