Update on Diversity and Inclusion

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Dear VCU and VCU Health Communities:

I write to update you on recent progress we have made in our commitment to a more diverse and inclusive environment at Virginia Commonwealth University.

As President Rao has often said, VCU faculty, staff, students and graduates must be prepared to lead in a world that is more interconnected and diverse than ever. That means we must ensure that the educational experience at VCU prepares them to do exactly that.

Simply put, we are redoubling every effort to ensure greater access, diversity, outreach, experiential learning, equity and inclusion.

We have some successes on which to build. For example, our student body is the most diverse of any university in Virginia. 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.

That is why a commitment to active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity in our people, curricular and co-curricular activities, and communities is key to enhancing VCU’s diversity efforts.

Simply put, we are redoubling every effort to ensure greater access, diversity, outreach, experiential learning, equity and inclusion.

Among them, we are pursuing accountability-driven diversity and inclusion goals across the university, an initiative being led by the Division for Inclusive Excellence and supported by the Council of Inclusive Excellence and Equity and the newly created President’s Action Group on Diversity and Inclusion.

Since the new year, we have also taken several steps to move our commitments to diversity and inclusion from words to actions. Some examples follow:

Education and Training Initiatives

· More than 100 members of our leadership team have completed the first part of cultural competency training, led by an external consultant who is recognized as a national leader in this field. Part two of this training will be conducted later this spring.
· Several members of our team have also completed training to guard against unconscious bias in the hiring process, whether based on race, religion, gender, nationality or any other factor.
· Members of our team are also beginning comprehensive Title IX training.
· Several members of our university community have attended a series of Diversity Education and Retention Initiatives workshops focused on topics such as micro-aggression, conflict resolution and cultural competency.
· More than 600 VCU and VCU Health staff participated in the VCU Staff Senate’s 2016 Staff Professional Development Conference focused on diversity and inclusion. Moving forward, the Staff Senate’s newsletter will feature an article on diversity and inclusion topics each month. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
· In May, the fourth annual Institute on Inclusive Teaching will feature author and expert Dr. Mathew Ouellett, associate provost and director of Teaching and Learning at Wayne State University, as facilitator-in-residence. Dr. Zewelanji Serpell will present her research on stereotype threat and solo status. And the Rev. Ben Campbell, an author and historian, will lead the retreat. Several pre-institute events have also been planned, including one led by Dr. Adrienne Dessel, the co-associate director of The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan’s Institute on Inclusive Teaching. More information is available here.

Institutional Changes

· We updated university policies and procedures related to equal opportunity, gender discrimination, affirmative action and pay transparency.
· We began a process that will make reporting incidents of bias easier. This project, part of LGBTQ-specific Campus Pride Index, involves divisions across VCU, including Assurance Services, Equity and Access, Inclusive Excellence, Human Resources, Student Affairs and University Police. We also launched a Bias Response Team as part of this project.

Recruitment, Retention, and Success

· Our current Recruitment Inclusive Champions cohort will graduate in May, and we are beginning to recruit for next year’s cohort.
· VCU has just joined the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, a national organization focused on serving the professional development needs of women and underrepresented faculty.


· A link on the university’s homepage now collects and disseminates information related to our diversity and inclusion efforts, bringing once-disparate information into one place. This website includes a calendar of events, recent news and resources to help advance our efforts in these areas.
· We created a publication called VCU Campus Pride that highlight our LGBTQQIA efforts. It is available here.
· We have reached out to students, faculty, staff, senior leaders, alumni and the external community for several months using the president’s blog, targeted communication to and by academic leaders; university social media; meetings of the President’s advisory group; and public student forums and conversations.

Institutional Commitment, Accountability, and Engagement

· Dr. Alma Clayton-Pedersen, a diversity consultant, met with the President’s Cabinet and discussed ways to link grassroots efforts in diversity and inclusion to the university’s overall commitment.
· 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, to be implemented in Fall 2016. These will focus on (and include accountability for):

  • Institutional Commitment
  • Climate and Intergroup Relations
  • Recruitment, Retention and Success 
  • Education and Scholarship
  • Assessment

· In the coming weeks, we will administer a campus climate survey for faculty and staff and, separately, for students. Information gained from these surveys will guide our future planning related to diversity and inclusion and other issues. Information sessions will be held to discuss the survey instruments and gather campus input.

· We are hosting Diversity and Inclusion Cafés in April to seek input on the 2016-2021 Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan and the University Diversity and Inclusion Scorecard. This is the Five in Five Campaign to promote the new five themes of the plan to be measured over five years.

Celebrations and Recognitions

· We have scheduled the annual PACME Awards for April 4. The university-wide celebration recognizes the contributions of heroes who are enhancing inclusive excellence and advancing VCU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
· Planning is underway for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Gay Student Alliance at VCU, to be celebrated as one of several events during LGBTQ History Month in October.
· The Division for Inclusive Excellence, in strategic partnership with Development and Alumni Relations, will also sponsor the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Networking Reception on April 15, to engage members of VCU’s three chartered diversity alumni organizations: the African-American Alumni Council, the Latino Alumni Council and Rainbow Rams.
· We are also planning the second annual Greater Richmond Society of Human Resource Management and VCU Community Diversity and Inclusion Symposium, scheduled for July 13-14 and featuring speakers such as Tony Byers, the director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Starbucks; Lenore Pearlstein, owner and publisher of Insight into Diversity magazine; and Dr. Steve Robbins, innovator of the concept of “unintentional intolerance.”

As the year continues, and as we have more to report, President Rao and I will continue to update the community through email and social media channels.


Wanda S. Mitchell
Vice President for Inclusive Excellence