President’s diversity forum overflows Salons

Rao listens to student Attalah Shabazz share her experiences on campus. Photo by Sarah King.
President Michael Rao addresses the audience in the Richmond Salons during a diversity forum held Nov. 18. Members of the Board and Black VCU Speaks were in attendance. Photo by Sarah King
President Michael Rao addresses the audience in the Richmond Salons during a diversity forum held Nov. 18. Members of the Board of Visitors and Black VCU Speaks were in attendance. Photo by Sarah King

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.

VCU students demonstrated in solidarity with U. Mo. in the Compass. Photo by Travis Ellison.
VCU students demonstrated in solidarity with U. Mo. in the Compass. Photo by Travis Ellison.

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.

Rao listens to student Attalah Shabazz share her experiences on campus. Photo by Sarah King.
Rao listens to student Attalah Shabazz share her experiences on campus at the diversity forum on Nov. 18. Photo by Sarah King.

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

12043164_10154409820528747_3562469904289705643_nSarah 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

kingsa@commonwealthtimes.org

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