MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Marlon Dechausay sported a pair of sunglasses and a blue mask with “VOTE” printed across it more than a dozen times in red and white lettering.
He observed. And listened. And walked alongside a group with a shared vision that assembled outside the University of Memphis Administration Building at 5 p.m. on a Friday. Among the approximately 150 participants were university president M. David Rudd, faculty and staff members, students and members of various Tiger athletic programs. They were raising awareness about social justice and promoting unity by walking together across the Hunter Harrison Memorial Bridge, which sits between Walker and Southern avenues.
As volleyball player Adjuwa Osborne addressed the need to eradicate racial inequality and football player Obinna Eze pleaded for more understanding, Dechausay beamed with equal parts pride and confidence.
“Really satisfying, fulfilling,” he said.
Eze delivered a brief, but impassioned, off-the-cuff speech.
“Everybody understands what love is,” he said. “Everybody understands how they want to be treated. What I’m asking you to do is be brave. Be honest. Look someone else in the eye and understand that the same thing that hurts you, hurts them. The goal is for this community to be a place where life has gone right.”
It’s moments like these that provide Dechausay, Memphis’ associate athletic director for student-athlete welfare, with affirmation that his efforts are already making a difference. In the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Dechausay recognized the path toward change needed structure and organization. In June, his vision was realized when the University of Memphis Athletes for Diversity and Equality was formed. The UMADE committee’s core consists of 11 athletes, coaches, administrators and faculty.
“Marlon Dechausay has been instrumental in helping us develop actions and communication toward a more equitable and inclusive athletics department,” Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch told The Commercial Appeal. “His passion and energy make our entire administrative team better.”
Dechausay, 45, serves as UMADE’s chairman. He said Memphis’ athletes give him “a lot of hope,” but said he feels the weight of that responsibility every day.
“They put me at ease,” said Dechausay, who joined the Memphis athletic department in 2018. “They’re reaching out, ‘Hey, have you seen this? Hey, can we do this?’ They’ve made it a lot easier to fulfill their requests and really empower them to take the lead on things.
“This is bigger than Memphis. This is a national thing,” he said. “There’s a heightened focus in the NCAA, which passed legislation in January that every athletic department has to have a diversity and inclusion designee. As I talk to my friends around the country, I hear about some of the really great work they’re doing. But we’ve got to keep this momentum going. A lot of this is starting because of race, but we can’t forget about the other parts that make up diversity. We need to continue to look at how we are servicing our LBGTQA+ athletes and staff. That’s an area we can do better.
“If we can keep the whole in the forefront, I think there’s some great opportunity for more change in the future.”
Dechausay was born and raised in Toronto and ran track at the University of Louisiana in the late 1990s. He has worked at Illinois, Florida Atlantic, Indiana State, Texas Tech, Florida State, Iowa State and Syracuse in various capacities.
He has firsthand experience with biases and discrimination. He recalled when a police officer “made a full U-turn on an empty street to pull me over” and the moment “a white colleague told me how eloquently I spoke” — which he admits thinking was a compliment at the time.
“Being from Canada, I didn’t necessarily see it (as an insult),” Dechausay said.
He and his wife, Tina, are raising two young sons.
“They’re 12 and 9 (years old),” he said. “I think about their experience and the experiences I want them to have and the society I want them to grow up in. And I think about the work we’re doing and how it gives me hope for future generations. For my kids and my kids’ kids. They’ll have different opportunities and different experiences than what I’ve had and many other minorities.
“So, it is personal.”
Memphis women’s basketball player Lanyce Williams, along with Eze, were the primary driving forces behind last week’s campus unity walk. A sophomore from Arlington, Williams considers herself fortunate to be surrounded by people like Dechausay and the university community at large.
“Not a lot of people my age can be with such great people in the administration and things like that, getting a handle on how protocols go and how we can make change on campus,” she said. “For me to be a part of it, sometimes I have to take a step back and I’m like, ‘Whoa.’”
Dechausay was also recently appointed to a national working group — assembled by the LEAD1 Association — to examine diversity, equality and inclusion.
The LEAD1 Association national working group is divided into five subcommittees. Dechausay’s subcommittee is focused on training, education and mentorship.
“I think just seeing how that process is able to create policy, best practices will be really interesting,” he said. “Are there any policies out there that could prevent some things from getting done? Maybe there are campus or governmental policies that are negatively affecting underrepresented groups — how do we address those? I think it will shed some light on how we make progress.”