Diversity Spotlight: Alan Haller

June 14, 2024 - Emily Jodway

Spotlight Michigan State Athletic Director Alan Haller is our Diversity Spotlight for the month of June and our celebration of Juneteenth. Haller has devoted both his life and his career to the betterment of the Spartan community, from his 13 years as a member of the MSU Department of Police and Public Safety, to working as an administrator within the Athletic Department, seeing his time as a student-athlete come full circle with his promotion to Athletic Director in 2021. Along the way he has kept the safety and success of students and members of the community as the motivation behind all of his leadership efforts, while going the extra mile to promote diversity and inclusion on campus. An alumni of the College of Social Science and the School of Criminal Justice, he is an excellent example of a Diversity Spotlight.

Haller’s life has been shaped by his wealth of experiences, both positive and negative, and he has embraced them as opportunities to learn and grow as an individual. Raised by his mother, a high school math teacher, and his pastor father, he describes himself as ‘very fortunate’ to have been brought up by parents that treated all people with respect and saw their value within the community, no matter their background or circumstances. 

“They really raised us in a way that I saw interactions with the community through them,” he said. “They never told me how to treat people, but I saw how to treat people through them.”

This idea of being a product of one’s experiences, even the unfortunate ones, developed early in Haller’s life. After living in an all Black neighborhood in Milwaukee, his family moved to Lansing and found themselves in a nearly all-white community. In several interviews, he has spoken about his memory of someone yelling a racial slur at him for the first time, calling it a ‘shock experience.’ Soon after moving into his Lansing neighborhood, however, Haller was approached by a white neighbor who invited him to come over and meet his children, whom he ended up spending a large part of his childhood with. The juxtaposition was eye-opening.

“I think the idea of experiences are important to people, and you can’t categorize a whole particular group of people based on an experience with one,” he explained. 

Haller chose to attend Michigan State and was a dual-sport athlete, participating in football and track and field. Having this instant group of students who shared similar interests and values with him gave him a sense of security and belonging throughout his time on campus. “I felt very included in the community and that I mattered; I think that was important for my development,” he said. Early on, he also was introduced to Dr. Clarence Underwood. Underwood is a veteran, an MSU graduate, an educator, and worked in athletic administration for over 30 years, culminating in an appointment to Athletic Director in 1999. Haller and Underwood met while Underwood was serving as an Associate Athletic Director, and Haller fondly remembers being brought under his wing and what Underwood taught him about mentorship and being an upstanding member of the community. 

“I spent a lot of time with Dr. Underwood during that time, just learning from him, and it’s one of the things I try to do now; I accept a lot of opportunities or requests to talk to students. I think part of my responsibility is doing those things, but I learned that because of Dr. Underwood. He was a busy man, but he always had time for me,” he said.

Education has been an important value in Haller’s life since his youth. His parents instilled in him the benefits of lifelong learning; his father received his PhD, his mother a master’s degree, and his two sisters work in the law and medical fields, respectively. This was in part his motivation behind returning to school and earning his master’s after a four-year stint in the NFL. He chose to pursue a degree in Human Resources at Central Michigan. “Human Resources was something I thought could help me learn processes as it relates to making and helping communities be diverse. It was important for me to understand labor laws and hiring practices, and I still use that in my job today,” he explained. 

Haller had also developed an interest in the world of law enforcement both in his youth and throughout his time at Michigan State. This culminated in a 13-year career with the MSU Department of Police and Public Safety. 

One of his earliest inspirations was a local officer with the Lansing Police Department, Sergeant Parks. He was a staple presence in the neighborhood and a safety patrol officer at Sexton High School. “He was well known in the community, and the way that he would interact with students was very much different than the [common] perception of police officers,” Haller said. He spent time shadowing Parks while earning his undergraduate degree in criminal justice, and saw him as another important mentor in his life. 

“I think for me, the idea of being a part of making the community safe … I enjoyed that,” he said. “Sergeant Parks had a lot to do with that. I enjoyed watching him interact with the community and the way he went about his job.”

As a young police officer on campus, Haller continued to meet and interact with members of the community from all backgrounds. He was the first-ever liaison from the department for MSU’s Black Student Alliance, going to student meetings and hearing concerns from the group that he could take back to the department in an effort to improve campus safety. “The thing law enforcement taught me is that my interactions with people and learning to understand where they are coming from and their backgrounds had a direct impact on their experiences at MSU, and I wanted to be a part of their development process,” he explained. 

“My role wasn’t to run around in a patrol car and make a lot of traffic stops and arrests, my responsibility was to make sure they were comfortable in their community, and that I was a part of their community that they were comfortable with.”

Working closely with so many community groups and being involved on campus, Haller was recommended for a job within the athletic department by a colleague. He has held several different positions within the department on the way to being named Athletic Director in 2021. At the forefront of many of Haller’s efforts is the embracing of student-athlete diversity, as well as equal access to top-tier resources and training to ensure the greatest chance of success for each team as possible. These efforts also extend to the leadership within the department.

“Typically winning teams come from shared experiences, and I think that’s important in our student community and in how we’re hiring in athletics. Having qualified people with diverse experiences is important. We see things through the lens of how we experience life, and for me, to be an athletic director, I can’t always look at things through the way I’ve grown up. I want to surround myself with people that have different experiences.”

Haller feels that commemorations like Juneteenth serve as an important reminder of the challenges we as a nation have overcome as well as the work that remains to be done. For him, it is also a personal reminder of his own journey. “A lot of it is reflection and responsibility and reflecting on what the day itself means, but also the responsibility to where I am now and what that represents not just for the black community, but for our community in general,” he said. “I think of Juneteenth as a celebration of people and differences coming together for the good of everyone.”

“I think the great thing about MSU is there’s a lot of people from different backgrounds here, and the learning process comes from all of us experiencing things, not just reading books and taking tests. This community that’s here, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of for almost 30 years and I’m grateful for this opportunity. For me, this is more than my job, I take ownership of this community and really care about the people and what happens here, and being a police officer and now the athletic director … it’s really a dream come true.”


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