Published April 17, 2018
In 2002, Kathy Twist was selected by the Professional Tennis Registry as the organization’s Eastern Coach of the Year.
As coach of UB’s women’s tennis team, Twist was not only recognized for her philosophy of developing athletes into top players, but, as noted by the organization, “also coaching players or teams in their accomplishments and character.”
In 16 years as a head coach at UB, Twist guided the team to a MAC championship and 136 career dual-match wins, becoming the winningest coach in the program’s history. But she saw her role as extending beyond the tennis court.
Twist now serves as UB’s senior associate athletic director for sports administration, a position she has held since 2012. The position is also responsible for gender equity, diversity and inclusion in the Division of Athletics, and Twist saw an opportunity to build a culture of mutual understanding and integrate inclusion-related values throughout UB athletics.
“Creating a welcoming environment in which every member of our staff and our student-athletes are valued and respected goes hand in hand with building a culture of winning and enhancing scholarship,” she says. “I wanted to assess where the department was regarding diversity, equity and inclusion-related efforts.”
Twist wanted to draft policies that would be honest and clear, and enhance diversity and inclusivity throughout UB athletics.
“I believe in a multidisciplinary approach,” she says. “So I reached out to Jim Bowman, who is now an international student adviser; Kiera Duckworth, who was in social work at the time, on LGBTQ and transgender policies; Nellie Drew, for her expertise in sports law; and, of course, our UB counsel, Jim Jarvis.
“Together, we drafted up a set of policies and put them through a review.”
The team reached out to student-athletes, asking about their experience with diversity and inclusion. “This included some of my athletes, women of color and my LGBTQ student-athletes,” Twist says. “Initially, they were hesitant. Many were a little uneasy discussing these types of issues.”
She discovered one of the big positives of the conversations was growing relationships of mutual trust with the UB athletes.
“Developing these types of relationships is paramount to making your policies work,” she says. “If the policies are just sitting there on paper, they are not going to help a department, or the university, evolve into something better.
“There were four UB women student-athletes who helped us to get this going. As an underrepresented group, these four women were courageous enough to step forward and give me information about their daily living,” Twist says.
“We talked about how it was for them on a day-to-day basis, and they were open and honest. At the time, that was something new in talking about these types of issues.”
During the course of the conversations, Twist says she realized the department wasn’t doing enough.
“Policies can’t change attitudes. To bring that about requires building relationships with each other. That is where we needed to go, to make the change toward achieving greater diversity and inclusion in the department.”
One important change that came about is the growth of a very active UB Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
“Last fall, SAAC members put on a weeklong event, discussing and promoting the value of diversity and inclusion,” Twist says. “This was right in the mall area, near Capen.
“They spoke with people, conducted interviews and asked all sorts of questions: What are your feelings on racial equality? How do you feel about different religions? How do you feel about people with disabilities?
“There are so many issues to address,” Twist notes. “But we are a learning community. UB Athletics and, of course, the larger university community.”
Going outside of the university, she says, there is always a bigger picture.
A Buffalo native, she is very active in the community, and has served as a member of the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission’s Sports Advisory Council for the past three years.
“Working together, members of the Sports Advisory Council are doing things to make our community a better place to live, work and play sports,” she says.
“It leads us into the schools, for example. Our UB student-athletes are high-achievers in the classrooms, which is something they are preaching to much younger students: You can play a sport — it’s fun. But you also have to be good students.
“It is much better to get students involved and on the right track when they are young, when their habits are being formed. To do this, we are reaching into the grammar schools,” Twist explains.
She says UB volleyball players go to fourth- and sixth-grade classes to connect with younger students. “Especially girls, because it can be harder for them to get a start playing sports. Receiving encouragement from our female student-athletes can make a big difference to students in this age group.”
Twist adds that UB student-athletes speak to boys in grade levels as well. “We also have reading days at various schools. I know the football team does a lot. And we want to do more.”
A new opportunity for grammar school-age girls to learn and receive encouragement is Western New York Girls in Sports Day, held on the UB North Campus last fall and spring through the Wilson Foundation. Each event offered a focus on different sports and included a tour of Alumni Arena to show all that goes on in the lives of UB student-athletes.
“We want to help young students understand that when you come to college you have to work at your studies to remain on whatever team you are on,” Twist says. “On the tour we showed them offices for the individual sports, the athletic training center to see where and how our athletes train, and our computer lab.
“During the tour, one of the young girls stopped, looked at me and said, ‘You know, I can’t wait to come here.’
“Many — and sometimes most — of the girls we take on these tours have never been on a college campus. Some of them never hear the word ‘college’ at home, so they are never encouraged,” she says.
Twist says it is vital to give young girls opportunities. “It is a chance to know that opportunities are there for them. Plant that thought as soon as possible: They can do this and it is not for someone else.
“So when they come to UB, they see a diverse group of student-athletes and coaches — and among them someone who looks just like they do,” she says.
“You have to see people like you, doing what you might do, so you can dream it.”