Rao’s Diversity Task Force delivers recommendations

Photo by Ali Jones

Despite having one of the most increasingly diverse undergraduate student bodies in Virginia, fewer Richmond-area minority students are enrolling at VCU than in previous years.

Black students are particularly affected by the trend. In four years, VCU saw a 32 percent decline in black students who enrolled from school districts in central Virginia. In response to the trend, President Michael Rao established a task force in August 2014.

Former VCU president Eugene Trani and Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Wanda Mitchell co-chaired “The President’s Task Force on Innovative Recruitment of Underrepresented High School Students from central Virginia” to examine the issue and give recommendations for the institution to reverse the trend.

“I asked this taskforce to develop thoughtful strategies and recommend ways that we will remain a recognized leader in diversity while ensuring that the transformational educational experience of our national research university is available to all qualified students — especially those who live, work and learn in central Virginia, and are most likely to remain here as leaders in our region,” Rao said in a message to the VCU community.

About 11 months after Rao announced its inception, the group completed its work, giving six recommendations.

Among the recommendations was support for VCU’s decision to no longer require students with a high school GPA of 3.3 or higher to submit SAT scores in their college application, with the exception of certain STEM-based fields of study.

When Rao announced the university’s decision in January, he cited VCU’s and independent research claiming racial and socioeconomic biases were inherent to the test.

“When it comes to SAT, there’s the issue of cost: first of all it costs money to take the exam in the first place,” Trani said. “Beyond that, students from wealthier families often score better because their parents pay for them to take prep courses. Students from lower-income families usually do not have that opportunity.”

The task force also recommended the university give a substantial amount of financial relief to students from central Virginia. The task force told the university it should reserve 20 percent of its financial aid funds for students from central Virginia, in addition to prioritizing those students for scholarships.

“We felt that there were real disadvantages to central Virginian students to serving financial aid on a first-come first-serve basis,” Trani said. “A lot of these school districts do not have the staff help to train students and parents on how to complete the FAFSA that districts from Northern Virginia do. The students are turning their forms in later, and receiving less aid,”

It was also recommended that VCU build a strong relationship with area school districts by having regular interactions with superintendents, principals and counselors. It was also pushed to offer high-school students in the area on-campus classes that could translate to credit hours in college.

“We felt that we needed to do more outreach to students from local school systems, maybe they needed more familiarity with our institution and the great things it provides to its students,” Mitchell said.

Lastly, the task force recommended that VCU provide internships, career exploration services, enhanced advising and encourage students to participate in living-learning programs.

“Their recommendations — which I fully endorse — mark a clear path forward for enhancing the diversity of our student body and the likelihood that more of our students will succeed, graduate and become the leaders and catalysts who will transform Central Virginia in profound ways,” Rao said.

Rao has continually stressed the university’s efforts to maintain a diverse environment in all aspects, but while VCU prides itself on a diverse student body, questions were raised about a lack of diversity in the university’s faculty in a report by vice president Mitchell to the Board of Visitors in December 2014.

In the fall of 2014, about 49 percent of VCU’s undergraduate students were white, but about 74 percent of the teaching and research faculty was white. While black students were about 17 percent of the undergraduate population, 4.6 percent of the faculty was black. Eight percent of the student body was hispanic or latino while only 2.6 percent of the faculty was.

VCU’s teaching and research faculty had 1,653 White professors, 289 Asian, 105 Black and African-American and 57 Hispanic and Latino professors in the fall of 2014.

Rao addressed the issue in his State of the University Address in 2014, stating that VCU is “strengthening efforts to recruit and retrain “premier underrepresented faculty members.”

As a part of those efforts, the university has brought on a national consultant to examine the issue.

Fadel Allassan, Staff Writer

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.11.49 PMFadel is a sophomore print journalism major. He is fluent in English and French and enjoys writing about politics. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


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