Students, faculty and staff overflowed Richmond Salons 3 and 4 in the Student Commons on Wednesday, during the president’s hour-long diversity forum.
President Michael Rao and a group of collective black students, Black VCU Speaks, opened the discussion by sharing remarks.
“It’s clear that diversity at VCU does not include Blackness,” said junior Angelique Scott in her opening remarks, to which much of the packed room responded with snaps and applause.
Rao announced the forum last Wednesday in light of students’ demonstrating in the Compass in solidarity with their peers at the University of Missouri. The next day, Black VCU Speaks held a sit-in at the president’s house to discuss issues of race and blackness on campus.
During the sit-in last week, Black VCU Speaks shared a list of demands with the president pertaining to increases in black faculty, safe spaces and counseling services for black students and cultural competency training for students and staff.
The group reiterated many of those demands at the diversity forum in the Commons.
Senior university leadership, including Kevin Allison, senior assistant to the president, Wanda Mitchell, vice president for inclusive excellence, and Aashir Nasim, inaugural director of the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation were in attendance alongside members of the Board of Visitors.
After initial remarks, Rao opened up the floor for questions and discussion. An alumna asked Rao when exactly new diversity initiatives would be implemented.
“When is yesterday, because the urgency is more than some might grasp,” Rao said in response.
When a faculty member shared his experience as a student where he was excluded from a barbecue at a professor’s house that his class was invited to, the room was torn between tension and laughter.
“I’m a faculty member now, and there are still times I feel marginalized,” the faculty member continued, saying he sometimes feels his peers will leave diversity trainings feeling good about themselves, but not following through by changing their behavior.
If we’re going to have these conversations, we need to be real about it,” he said.
Student Attalah Shabazz also asked Rao about the state of black faculty at VCU.
Shabazz explained how one of her favorite professors, Tamura Lomax, recently resigned from her teaching post. Shabazz said Lomax continually encountered sexism within her department.
“How can you say you want Black faculty here when you’re not valuing what they’re bringing to the table?” Shabazz asked Rao.
Students and staff directly addressed issues of oppression, privilege and mandatory cultural competency initiatives on campus to make the work and learning environment more accepting.
Rao said something he hopes to specifically work on is increasing the lines of communication between students, faculty and staff regarding university initiatives already underway.
Rao closed the hour-long session by stating he hopes to host a similar forum before Thanksgiving break.
Executive Editor, Sarah King
Sarah is a junior in the honors college studying political science and philosophy of law. Last spring, Sarah worked as an editorial intern for “CQ Researcher” and “SAGE Business Researcher” in Washington, D.C. Her independent work has been published on platforms including the Huffington Post, RVA Magazine and alongside her peers at Harvard, Brown and Columbia on knowyourix.org. Sarah’s primary nutrient is Redbull. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn
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