VCU community and national challenges around race and diversity

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Recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and elsewhere remind us that diversity and race relations continue to be critically important issues within our national context.

What we have witnessed around the nation in recent weeks is deeply troubling. At Virginia Commonwealth University, we have very clearly and repeatedly reaffirmed our uncompromising commitment to diversity in all its forms: that we will work to ensure that every person from every background has every chance to succeed here, and that we hope our students will use their education to make the world a better place for us all.

We are proud to have the most diverse university student population in Virginia. We seek to support, more deeply understand and effectively use the asset and opportunity that our diversity presents as we engage the need, promise and imperative to effectively connect across differences. We have been named a national model for diversity; now we strive to shape the national conscience. I am proud that our student body looks more and more like our changing world, and I am more confident in the future of our country because of the ways in which our students will one day be leaders of that world.

I am grateful for the many ways in which you have continued to honor our commitment to diversity and inclusion and have helped advance that ideal beyond our campus into a world that needs diverse leadership.

Many members of our community are understandably experiencing distress and frustration in the wake of these nationally significant events. I offer my support and understanding and remind you that the university has a range of services that can offer assistance, including the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), the Division of Inclusive Excellence and University Counseling Services.

Some of our faculty, staff and student colleagues have chosen to become a constructive part of the response to these events, including though their creative expression, advocacy, and peaceful protests and demonstrations. One of the fundamental purposes of higher education is providing the opportunity for members of our community to find their voice, and I applaud the many ways in which you are doing that. I urge you to continue to develop your voice in positive and productive ways, and we will continue to work with our faculty and staff to offer you resources and avenues to do so.

For example, in the spring semester, the Department of African American Studies has opened a course on race and criminal justice and will make part of that course widely available in a MOOC format. VCU’s Division of Inclusive Excellence will convene a series of public town hall discussions on diversity and race relations; and will co-host with the Greater Richmond Society for Human Resource Management, the first annual Diversity and Inclusion Symposium, “Our Communities + Our Workforce = Our Future,” on Feb. 17, 2015. In addition to its ongoing programming, OMSA will host an educational conference on diversity and social justice. We are considering ways in which we may engage with grassroots and faith-based organizations in the region as part of a larger community engagement effort.

We are also working to continue enhancing our diversity. I have charged a task force with recommending ways in which we can more effectively support the enrollment of African American students and, in partnership with our Faculty Senate and Black Education Association, have charged members of my cabinet to review and ensure effective strategies in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty.

Additional opportunities and efforts will be announced in the coming weeks. I also invite you to contact me, or Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Wanda Mitchell, with suggestions about ways that VCU can facilitate and lead this important discussion. Our goal is to ensure that every one of us can be valued, important and impactful leaders.

I am grateful to join all of you as part of a community that embraces and advances diversity in all ways and that will be a leading voice in this important national conversation.