New Division Implements Enhanced Diversity Efforts
Cassie Williams Jones
University Public Affairs
Virginia Commonwealth University’s new Division of Diversity and Equity is ushering in the new semester with opportunities for building on and enhancing initiatives at a university that already is considered a leader in diversity efforts.
With founding vice president Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D., leading the way, the division is adding to existing efforts and creating more opportunities to address diversity in its broadest sense by ensuring advocacy for diverse and inclusive environments and promoting a culture of civility and respect for all individuals.
“As vice president for diversity and equity, I am acutely aware and supportive of initiatives that position women, people of color, persons with disabilities, LGBTQA community members and members of other groups that have traditionally been marginalized to progress in the academy,” said Mitchell. “Therefore, with my leadership and that of others, VCU is moving forward in developing and implementing a comprehensive, accountability driven, community engaged model for advancing excellence through diversity.”
The division focuses on strengthening VCU’s climate of equity, diversity and inclusiveness and is responsible for implementing the university’s five-year diversity plan and all diversity initiatives sponsored by VCU. It also serves as a central resource for programs and services and houses key compliance and advocacy functions, including Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) services.
Since Mitchell’s appointment as chief diversity officer in September, the diversity office has grown and will continue to expand throughout this semester. Several additional roles are being filled to help round out the services this unit can provide.
“I have learned throughout my higher education career that it takes a strong team of persons with diverse talents and experiences to achieve successes and to move an institution’s commitment to diversity from rhetoric to action,” Mitchell said.
With advancement in mind, Mitchell has organized upcoming initiatives that will include opportunities for professional development among senior leadership and others, including two visits from external consultants who will work with various groups on campus to promote change.
Michele Gibbons-Carr, Ph.D., will be on campus Jan. 16-18, and Pat Griffin, on Feb. 5-6, to assess any gaps in the university’s organizational structure and help frame its efforts and guide its next steps to be more intentional and deliberate.
Gibbons-Carr conducts a variety of management development seminars and provides assessment-based developmental feedback and coaching for upper-middle and executive-level managers. At VCU, she will meet with administrative and academic leaders, in addition to diversity leaders at the school and departmental levels. She also will talk with members of the Equity and Diversity Committee, Equality VCU (previously the LGBT Subcommittee) and the Black Educators Association.
In February, Griffin will meet with some of the same groups for workshops, as well as lead an open campus discussion titled “Creating a Welcoming and Inclusive LGBTQ Climate in Collegiate Athletics.” She is professor emerita in social justice education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where her research and writing interests were LGBT issues in education and athletics. She regularly consults with the NCAA and college athletic departments on LGBT issues in sports and is an NCAA-recognized speaker.
“The initiatives put into motion by Dr. Mitchell and her team speak to VCU’s passion for advancing the diverse culture that is so important to the strength of VCU’s learning experience and research program,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and the VCU Health System. “Diversity is one of this university’s most valuable assets—one that contributes to the success of our students, faculty and staff. I look forward to continued efforts that build upon that solid foundation of respect and inclusiveness ingrained in our school’s rich fabric.”
VCU already is considered a national leader in diversity efforts. Its diverse student body is composed of about 40 percent underrepresented populations. The university has received numerous accolades in the areas of equity and diversity.
In addition, VCU is listed among the nation’s top institutions of higher learning for boosting graduation rates and closing the graduation rate gap for both black and Hispanic students between 2004 and 2010, according to a pair of reports released by The Education Trust. The reports, based on a study called “Advancing to Completion,” ranked VCU among the top four public and private institutions nationwide for boosting black and Hispanic student graduation rates and among the top six public and private institutions for closing the graduation rate gap for black and Hispanic students.
The university was recently named a recipient of the 2012 Minority Access Role Models Award by Minority Access Inc. for its commitment to recruit, retain and advance students and employees from a diverse applicant pool. VCU is one of only 27 institutions nationally to achieve the designation. The school also received the first Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine for its exemplary initiatives on all aspects of diversity, including gender, race, ethnicity, veterans, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. The national award honors U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and VCU was featured along with 47 other recipients in the December 2012 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education.
Several awards programs that recognize VCU employees who are committed to advancing diversity are in place. Later this week, this year’s recipients will be honored at the 2013 Burnside Watstein LBGT Awards. This award is given annually to one or more individuals who enrich the sense of community at VCU, and in particular, make a significant difference in the lives of LGBT faculty, staff and students.
The Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment (PACME) recognize university and health system members who have contributed significantly to multicultural relations and diversity. Each year a PACME — and $500 — is awarded to an individual or organization in each of four groups: faculty, administrators, staff and students. In addition, one recipient earns the Riese-Melton Award, a capstone award that includes an additional $250.
Subscribe to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at http://newsletter.news.vcu.edu/ and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday.