Continuing the quest for diversity

Photo by Travis Ellison
Photo by Travis Ellison
Photo by Travis Ellison
VCU Police Chief John Venuti (far left), Vice President for Inclusive Excellence (second from left) and Interim Vice Provost of Student Affairs Chuck Klink (center) stand in the Compass during a November student rally in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri. Photo by Travis Ellison

On what seemed to be a typical fall Wednesday at Virginia Commonwealth University, a group of dozens of students gathered in the Compass, just between the Cabell Library and Shafer Dining Court, to voice concerns over the university’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

Many students at that gathering held signs intended to display solidarity with students at the University of Missouri where the university’s president had been pressured to step down amidst an outcry and protests regarding racial tension on campus.

The conversation in the Compass, where several members of Rao’s administration attended to speak with students, took a different turn: What was VCU doing to improve the situation of its minority students?

“I’m a transfer student from Louisiana State University, where there was a lot of racism,” one student shouted out to the crowd. “One of the reasons I came to VCU was that it’s supposed to be diverse, but when I got here I noticed we have the same problems.”

Later that day, university officials immediately responded with an email from Rao, ensuring the university community that VCU is focused on diversity, being sent out as protests continued.

On March 14, nearly five months later, a similar email was sent to the VCU community by the university’s Vice President for Inclusive Excellence, Wanda Mitchell.

“We have some successes on which to build. For example, our student body is the most diverse of any university in Virginia,” Mitchell’s email read. “However, we are keenly aware that a diverse student body does not ensure the existence of a welcoming, inclusive and dynamic learning community. So we have progress still to make.”

Mitchell highlighted six key ways the university plans to improve: with education and training initiatives, institutional changes, recruitment and retention, communication, institutional accountability and celebration and recognition.

Mitchell touted more than 100 members of the leadership team has completed the initial part of a cultural competency training which was led by an external consultant, and that the second part of this training would be completed later in the spring.

This is in addition to training that some members of the leadership did on guarding against unconscious bias, Title IX and diversity and retention training on micro-aggressions, conflict resolution and cultural competency initiatives.

As part of an effort to increase VCU’s score on the LGBTQ-specific campus pride index, which rates colleges based on their overall “friendliness” toward LGBTQ students, the university began a process to streamline the reporting of bias-related incidents on campus.

Mitchell also announced VCU joined the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, a national organization focused on serving the professional development needs of women and underrepresented faculty.

In the fall of 2015, the university initiated a publication called VCU Campus Pride highlighting LGBTQ efforts on campus.

Mitchell stressed the importance of having an accountable administration and leadership. That’s why in October, Alma Clayton-Pedersen, a diversity consultant, met with the president’s cabinet and discussed ways to include diversity and inclusion into the university’s general mission.

Every five years the Division for Inclusive Excellence rolls out a new plan that will outline its plan for increasing diversity. The current plan ends after the spring of 2016.

The Council for Inclusive Excellence and Equity began drafting the 2016-2021 Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan and University-wide Diversity and Inclusion Scorecard which will be implemented in the fall of 2016.

Mitchell said the council will look to create an action plan which focuses on Institutional Commitment, Climate and Intergroup Relations, Recruitment, Retention and Success, Education and Assessment.

“I really think the focus, and that’s where my work is, is inclusion,” Mitchell said. “How do we advance and enhance the experiences of people who come here to learn and graduate? How do we make that a positive one?”

The plan will also consider the results of a campus climate survey by the division, meant to measure the sentiments of students, faculty and staff regarding the climate of the university’s diversity.


Print News Editor, Fadel Allassan

Fadel Allassan, photo by Brooke MarshFadel is a sophomore print journalism major. He is fluent in English, French and Sarcasm, and he probably doesn’t like you. Fadel enjoys writing about politics and making people drive him to Cook-Out. // Facebook | LinkedIn

allassanfg@commonwealthtimes.org

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