Dr. Monique Carroll, Athletic Director at Huston-Tillotson University, is, at age 34, the first Black female Athletic Director in the school’s history. Hailing from New Boston, Texas, Carroll has been an NCAA Division I athlete at her alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and in a number of HBCU athletic departments en route to her current leadership role with Huston-Tillotson. As part of Austin FC’s celebration of Black History Month, we talked with Carroll to hear her thoughts on being a Black leader at HT and in Austin.
What does it mean for you to be the first Black female Athletic Director at HT? It’s happening during a very strange time, obviously, but it’s also a position in which you have both the opportunity and responsibility to be a role model and a leader.
“Everybody talks about diversity within sports, and it’s what everyone is striving for, but we still have a ways to go when it comes to Black professionals as athletic directors, so just to get this opportunity, this is my career goal. I knew I was meant to do this from a young age. To be at an institution with a female president is just icing on the cake.
“I was a Division I student-athlete, and my coach pushed me into some student-athlete leadership opportunities. I had an opportunity to represent our athletes in my conference. Within the NCAA, there was one student-athlete from the SEC, the Big 12, the ACC, every conference, they had one person to speak for all the institutions’ athletes, and I was that one person. I got the chance to be around the NCAA, to see Black ADs, white ADs, to see how the infrastructure works, and from there, obviously, this is what I wanted to do.”
What does “persistence is power” mean to you? (Note: “persistence is power” is a phrase that HT’s President and CEO, Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, utilizes.)
“You’ve got to keep going. I preach this to my student-athletes, specifically from the President's message. We can't stop. Our power, it sounds cliche, but it lies in us. Our ability to keep going. Our ability to keep persevering, believing, and not giving up, to see things through, to keep going. Especially with this year, with COVID-19 and everything that's happened from a sports perspective. We’ve made some tough decisions, but definitely the right decisions to rebuild.
“Right now, we’re just in the midst of that storm, and that's why I think the phrase ‘persistence is power’ is so important. It’s actionable.
“You know, some people make catchphrases that sound good, but how do you put those into action? I think Dr. Burnette shows the Directors and the leadership every day, she makes us step it up and put it in action, and I know we do that with our student-athletes.
“The end goal is graduation, and right now, we also see the end goal is being able to get our students back on campus. Just continue to stick with us, continue to stay enrolled, continue to do everything you're doing, and you know we will be back again. It’s a line she uses often when she emails the students and the faculty, as we’re trying to be together while physically apart. It just goes into the idea to be relentless. As a former student-athlete, and now as an Athletic Director, who leads student-athletes, they get that message - you really don't understand the power of that persistence until you put it in action.
As someone who has worked in a number of HBCUs, what makes HT different?
“One of the things, when it came to HT, is they drew me in with the family atmosphere. When people talk about why they choose HBCUs, people always say the family aspect, the closeness of it. When I interviewed at HT, when I knew I wanted the job, the energy I felt when I came onto campus, I said, ‘They better ask me to do this job!’ It felt like HT was where I was supposed to be, where I could make an immediate and direct impact.
“We still have the opportunity, being right in the heart of East Austin, to do some special things, and I think that's what really drove me to say, “I want to be a part of what's going on here.”
“It’s a smaller campus. Everybody knows what's going on, everybody knows everyone's names and though HBCUs pride themselves on that for the most part, when you’ve got 1,100 students, you really know everybody, and that’s a big difference at HT.”
We’re also curious about your relationship with Dr. Burnette; how has that impacted you?
“As a fairly young administrator, a Black female, you’re always looking at people who are doing great things, leading in a certain way, and you're looking at them and trying to pick the best parts of everything, as you state your own individual philosophies and visions.
“She asked me in my interview ‘How do you feel about sports teams wearing different colored shoes, not completely uniform?’ I didn't know if it was a trick question. I really did answer honestly, saying there is power in a team coming out dressed the same head to toe, looking good, looking uniform. But I said it's also 2020, so me letting you wear your own shoes one game is not going to be the end of the world. But maybe pick a game that is not televised. I was thinking on the way home, did I blow this interview over shoes? But now I know she just wanted to just see my philosophy.
“After George Floyd’s death, we actually hosted a rally on campus. Her messaging, just to be able to impact a crowd of young people generally of all ages, all races and to be able to lead them unapologetically is one of the things I look at her and know - she's going to do what she says she is going to do. She’s going to stand by her decision. And she's going to lead us with a full heart. To me, that's kind of rare. The way that she is vulnerable with us, as a campus, as a university, but also demanding the best of the best, and her passion for the students, that has been contagious.”
If you could speak to the city of Austin about HT, what would you want them to know?
“That we’re here. One of the things, and it's a common thing about HBCUs in general, everywhere I've worked, it's amazing how many people have not been on the campus. I would venture to say, if we did a survey of East Austin, there would be people that may live within five miles that have never been on the campus, never attended an event, don't know what's going on. So, we would tell them, we're welcome to all. Once we're open again, we're open to everyone. For a lot of events, we do incorporate the community because we understand we’re right in the heart of things. Just engage and interact with us and see the good things we have going on. We have something unique to offer Austin. We invite you to come experience HT’s persistence is power philosophy in action firsthand.”