Melanie Njeri Jackson, Ph.D., Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity, Dies at Age 60

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Melanie Njeri Jackson, Ph.D., special assistant to the provost for diversity at Virginia Commonwealth University, died Friday, July 23, following a bout with cancer. She was 60.

Jackson joined the faculty at VCU in 1990, became chair of the department of African American studies in 1998 and was appointed as special assistant to the provost for diversity in July 2007. In that position, Jackson served as the university’s chief diversity officer and was responsible for the creation, design, implantation and assessment of diversity initiatives as called for in VCU’s Five Year Diversity Plan.    

“VCU has lost a gem in Njeri Jackson,” said VCU President Michael Rao. “Struck by her understanding and commitment to diversity on the VCU campus, I admired Njeri from the time that we first met.

“She quickly became a partner in our passion to further advance diversity at VCU,” Rao said. “I will miss her dearly and always remain grateful for her important contributions to the university.”

Beverly Warren, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, remembered Jackson as an outstanding scholar who dedicated her career to promoting diversity and cultural understanding among faculty, staff and students, as well as to the greater community. 

“Every person who had the opportunity to work with her, study with her, or even have a brief conversation with her came away with a better understanding of who we are and what we can accomplish by working together,” Warren said. “It is our honor and duty to continue her efforts.”

Jackson held a joint appointment in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and in the Department of African American Studies.

"She was committed to empowering others to be more accepting of differences," said Napoleon L. Peoples, Ph.D., associate dean of student affairs on the MCV campus. "This commitment wasn't just through her words, it was in her actions too. She was always willing to assist students."

During her time as chair of African American studies, Jackson helped the program grow into its current bachelor’s degree granting status. Under her leadership, the department added emphasis on health care issues among people of African descent.

Jackson also served as a consultant, adviser, board member and educator for public, educational and private agencies on a wide range of diversity-related issues, including cultural differences, health disparities, women and people of African descent and cultural efficacy.

Jackson received numerous awards for her teaching and service to the profession of political science. She received the VCU Presidential Award for Multicultural Enrichment in 2007 and the Riese Melton Award for her contributions to enhancing diversity. 

In 2008, Jackson received the Women of Color Professional Achievement Recognition Award from the Women’s Caucus for Political Science in recognition for her work in race and gender and for the provocative way in which she introduced critical and controversial ideas into her teaching and research. In nominating her for that award, former students and colleagues described her as “a force with which to be reckoned” who offered “hard-knuckled reality checks, incisive critiques and visionary perspectives.”

Jackson also taught in South Africa and presented lectures or conducted research in Barbados, China, Cuba, Jamaica and Korea.

Jackson received her bachelor’s degree in political science from Georgia State University and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from Clark Atlanta University.

Family members are arranging a celebration of her life which will take place in the weeks to come.