Former provost Grace E. Harris is honored for service and dedication to VCU

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Former Virginia Commonwealth University Vice Provost Grace E. Harris, Ph.D., was honored for decades of dedicated service to VCU during a reception on April 15 at the Scott House. The recognition came on the golden anniversary of her graduation from the former Richmond Professional Institute, which is now VCU.

VCU’s School of Social Work, the School of Social Work Alumni Network, the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute and the VCU Alumni Association honored Harris with the first “School of Social Work Grace E. Harris Community Engagement Leadership Award.” More than 100 people attended the reception.

“You are truly a legacy,” said VCU President Michael Rao. “And although I’ve been here only a short time, you are an incredible friend and an inspiration to me.”

Harris received her undergraduate degree in sociology from Hampton Institute, which is now Hampton University. Although she graduated with honors, she was originally denied admission into graduate school at Richmond Professional Institute because of her race.

“The challenge for me was what to do about that? I decided to go to Boston University, which accepted African American students,” Harris said.    

A year later, Harris was accepted at Richmond Professional Institute, where she would earn a master’s degree in social work.

Harris began her long career at VCU in 1967 when she joined the social work faculty. She later become dean of the School of Social Work, then vice provost for continuing studies and public service. When she retired in 1999 as the provost and vice president for academic affairs, she had twice served as acting president of the university.

“She has used her experience to make a difference in this school and in this community,” said Ann Nichols-Casebolt, interim dean, School of Social Work.

Harris is a distinguished professor in the Center for Public Policy at VCU and currently leads the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, which was established at her retirement to honor her longstanding leadership, service and contributions.

The former School of Business building was rededicated as Grace E. Harris Hall in December 2007.

“My story is proof that times change and people change,” Harris said. “We’ve come a long way in the South, in Virginia and at Virginia Commonwealth University.”

Harris has received many awards and honors for her professional and community contributions, including VCU’s Presidential Medallion Award. She was cited for her leadership in establishing the first-ever, long-range strategic plan for VCU. The university also awarded her with the Presidential Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment and the Riese-Mellon Award. 

Harris has received honorary doctorates from the University of Richmond and Virginia Union University and was recognized as Educator of the Year by the Richmond Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. 

Harris is a native of Halifax County. She and her husband, James W. “Dick” Harris, have two adult children.