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Coach instructs women of color to remain true to themselves, take risks

Women of color, and all women, must be true to themselves and take the necessary risks to rise above their challenges, even in times dominated by international and national problems, says one of the top coaches in the Department of Athletics.
Guevara (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Sue Guevara, head coach of the U-M women's basketball team, says women cannot allow odds or social or political pressures to push women of color from leadership positions or silence their voices. She says they must demand a role in deciding what kind of nation it will be, today and in the future.

"I believe we must be true to ourselves," Guevara told a full Lydia Mendlessohn Theatre. "We must not let ourselves be stampeded, even by the serious international and national concerns of the moment, to give up or give back any of the visibility and power we and other women who have come before us have fought so hard to win."

Guevara gave the keynote address at the Women of Color Task Force's 21st annual conference, "One University, One Community, One Destiny: Staff and the University's Mission," Feb. 28 at the Michigan League. The conference featured a daylong slate of workshops in the Modern Languages Building.

Guevara told conference attendees that they are living in a difficult time when much of what they hold dear at the University is being threatened or is at risk. She said it is easy to wonder if they should all go home, pull the covers over their heads and hope someone else solves the looming problems.

"I know I would much rather be focused on (the University of) Minnesota's offense and fast break than the dismantling of our affirmative action policies and how to defend against the watering down of Title IX," Guevara said. "I would much rather focus on the development and growth of my team than to battle wage inequities women face."
Mary Sue Coleman greets attendees at the Women of Color Task Force conference. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Guevara quoted National Women's Law Center statistics showing that women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns; African-American women earn 64 cents to the dollar; and Hispanic women earn 52 cents to the dollar. Guevara, who is Hispanic, says some things no longer can be ignored.

Guevara made sure she was not ignored in 1996 when the University began a nationwide search for a new women's basketball coach. Despite her success as associate head coach at nationally ranked and Big Ten Conference power Michigan State University, Guevara could not secure a head coaching position.

"It was turndown city; I could give a seminar on how to not get jobs," she said. "I walked into Schembechler Hall and told (then assistant athletic director) Jeff Long why I should be the next head coach at Michigan. I was guaranteed only six months as interim coach of a team that won five (Big Ten) games in four years."

The risk paid off for Guevara, who has registered a 123-81 record in seven seasons since and taken her team to the NCAA Tournament three times (1998, 2000 and 2001). That success earned Guevara 1998 and 2000 Big Ten Coach of the Year honors and the 2000 Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Women's Coach of the Year award.

The challenge has been bigger this year, however, as the Wolverines were 13-15 heading into last week's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. Barring a tournament championship, U-M will suffer its first losing season under Guevara's watch. Still, she said, the battle has just begun, as it has for all women of color.

"The best resources are your friends; women who have been there," Guevara said. "I remain firmly convinced that we are not defined by how many times life knocks us down, but by how many times we get back up and take the next risk or challenge. Especially in difficult times, it is important to keep moving and taking risks."

Guevara concluded her remarks by telling the group it should recognize that what women of color are doing is powerful and remarkable, even miraculous. She challenged all women to strive to the conference's mission of one destiny.

"We are not the first women of color to face this challenge," Guevara said. "If the world as we know it has been turned upside-down, together can we not turn it right-side-up again for our University and community? Isn't that a common destiny worth every risk?"

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