Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion at VCU

Racism is a challenging dialogue for many people

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Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D. Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D.

This blog is an important way for me to communicate with the VCU community and beyond. But, of course, I am hardly the only member of VCU’s leadership team with a voice on important issues. That is why I will, on occasion, offer this space to my colleagues who are leading important initiatives for VCU.

Dr. Wanda S. Mitchell is our vice president for inclusive excellence and a renowned national leader on diversity and inclusion in higher education. Given her remarkable expertise, I have asked her to comment on the ways that research universities like ours should be safe spaces to have conversations that may be difficult but advance the human experience. That includes conversations about racism. Her post follows.

 


 

We are fortunate to be part of a vibrant public research university that benefits in so many ways from the diverse people who comprise our community. We understand that our excellence as a university is tied to the diverse perspectives, cultures and experiences of our people.

Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion at VCU Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion at VCU

So what better place than a research university like ours — one that’s focused on innovation and opportunities — for people to be challenged to respond to difficult issues, such as racism and the oppression of voiceless citizens? These are difficult topics, but VCU is a fertile environment in which ideas and skills can be cultivated for a future and world that respects natural diversity. That is, in fact, one reason why VCU is home to creative and innovative inquiry and stimulating intellectual dialogue that helps advance new ideas, challenge the status quo and encourage collaboration that promotes innovation.

We can help unite our community by discussing issues of racism and intolerance in safe places and attempt to understand the past realities from which current injustices emanate. Given our mission of creating a better future, we must see the world as it really is and encourage others to work collaboratively to bring about change where change is necessary.

We have the unique opportunity to have discussions about race without referring to colorblindness. If we are going to make any progress in resolving issues of racism and intolerance within our university community, we must first admit that these problems exist. At our university, we must feel safe and empowered to have these conversations in an honest and appropriate way.

Today, I challenge our community to learn more about America’s history of racism and to ask critical questions about how to dismantle it.

Diversity, social justice and cultural competency education are about raising consciousness and bringing about personal, behavioral, institutional and cultural transformation of an organization, including our own university. We can’t shut down discourse on difficult topics like race, history and society; we must elevate them and undergird them with scholarly research and multiple perspectives while looking toward a better future for all people.

I hope you will join in this important dialogue and engage the broader VCU community in reflecting upon the many factors that have hinder progress of disenfranchised and underrepresented persons.

In her collection of essays, “Sustainable Planet,” Mary Pipher wrote that “we have lifestyle enclaves” and “community does not mean free of conflict. It’s inevitable and even healthy to have great differences. Even conflict can lead to closeness … A strong community will include people of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and interest. Community, communication, and communion all come from the same word, meaning ‘together’ and ‘next to.’ Embedded in the word is the concept of shared place.”

Yesterday, we had the distinct pleasure to experience “I AM Black History,” presented by Black Art Student Empowerment (B.A.S.E.) at The Depot. Events like this one offer audience participation and provide opportunities to engage in open dialogue.

Today, I challenge our community to learn more about America’s history of racism and to ask critical questions about how to dismantle it.

More events will be held this spring semester. These include:

    • The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) will host a series of discussions at noon throughout the spring semester in the OMSA office, located on the second floor of the Student Commons.
    • Symposium on Race and American Society, April 6, 2016, at both VCU and Virginia Union University, featuring Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the 66th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia and a member of VCU’s faculty.

 

– Wanda S. Mitchell
Vice President for Inclusive Excellence