“The genesis of this conversation is something that's been long overdue,” Lawler said. “I think the reason why this conversation is so important is really because of the representation, albeit some of the misrepresentation, of the relationship between student-athletes and faculty.”
Lawler said this relationship is coated in mystery and stigma, but that it can be better understood through continuous conversation on the subject.
“Change starts with us; it starts with the people in this room,” Lawler said.
Aimee McHale, a professor in the Public Health Leadership Program, asked about what kinds of interactions would be the most meaningful between faculty and student-athletes.
“It’s a daunting thing to go up to your professor and say ‘Hey, I'm gonna miss a lot.’ It’s a daunting thing to go up to your office hours and try to figure out why you didn't do well on a test," Lawler said. "It's not daunting to have lunch with someone."
Lawler said student-athletes also have a part to play in building these relationships and must address issues and be honest when they need help.
“At a root level, it's about understanding how these people work, and not just student-athletes but how you all work as well,” Lawler said.
Student-athlete mental health and leadership development
Shelley Johnson, director of the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy, and Cricket Lane, associate athletics director for student-athlete development, led the next portion of the meeting.
Johnson and Lane specialize in well-being, community outreach, career development and leadership for student athletes.
“We try to make it so that we are not stretching them too much, but still giving them everything they need,” Lane said.
Johnson spoke on the leadership aspect of the athletics department. She said the leadership development program of the department was created 15 years ago with its main goal of preparing student-athletes to lead their teams, whether as a captain or an upperclassman.
“Leadership is a skill; it can systematically be taught and mastered,” Johnson said.
Dr. Jeni Shannon, director of the UNC Athletics Mental Health and Performance Psychology Program, spoke on mental health as the last major topic of discussion. Shannon provides student-athletes with psychological services on campus.
“We’re trying to normalize mental health,” Shannon said. “We’re trying to get in as many spaces as we possibly can to decrease stigma. Our biggest challenge continues to be being able to meet the demand.”
Bubba Cunningham, director of athletics, commented on the importance of the committee's discussion that day.
“There’s not a single conversation that's gonna change everything, but every one of them helps,” he said.