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Wanda S. Mitchell, former vice president for inclusive excellence, dies at 57

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Wanda Mitchell served as VCU’s founding chief diversity officer, charged with strengthening the university's climate of equity, diversity and inclusiveness.

Wanda S. Mitchell, Ed.D., former vice president for inclusive excellence, died Monday. She was 57.

Mitchell served as VCU’s founding chief diversity officer, charged with strengthening VCU’s climate of equity, diversity and inclusiveness. As vice president, she led the development, implementation and assessment of strategic initiatives supporting VCU’s core mission of fostering a climate that embraces differing perspectives, cultures, experiences and people.

“Wanda was a consummate professional who combined national perspective with a deep, personal commitment to help every person she met in any way she could,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “She was insightful, empathetic and spectacularly kind. She was also a nationally recognized leader in diversity and inclusion. In fact, when we wanted to create our office focusing on diversity and equity efforts in 2012, I was told again and again, ‘Go get Wanda Mitchell!’”

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

“Her reputation as a bridge builder and strategic thinker preceded her, and, indeed, she set a high bar for all of us at VCU, challenging us to think about diversity in new ways and to double-down on our efforts to be more inclusive,” Rao said. “She also modeled that for us, always seeking to include as many voices as possible in any conversation — even those with whom she may have disagreed — because she understood that we all succeed only when we all contribute. Wanda was a wonderful counsel, a compassionate colleague and a true friend. We all mourn her loss and feel so grateful for her indomitable legacy.”

Mitchell spent more than three decades in higher education and also served as an affiliate professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education. There, she combined her teaching and research interests in counseling diverse populations, excellence and diversity in higher education, women’s leadership development and career development for women. 

“Wanda did exceptional work in establishing the division. She built a strong platform that has enhanced and deepened VCU’s work in diversity and inclusion through her considerable national leadership involving diversity and inclusion,” said Kevin Allison, Ph.D., interim vice president for inclusive excellence. “Wanda was a true advocate on critical issues. She made sure that people were being thoughtful in their work and thinking critically on issues of diversity and inclusion. She was consistent in that and worked to engage her colleagues in moving these efforts forward.”

Prior to joining VCU, Mitchell served as vice provost for faculty development and inclusive excellence at the University of New Hampshire and served as department chair and university endowed professor of education at Hampton University.

Mitchell, right, was
Mitchell, right, was "insightful, empathetic and spectacularly kind," said VCU President Michael Rao.

In addition to her work at VCU, she was involved with various professional associations including the Board of Directors of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence, and faculty for the Higher Education Resource Services Leadership Institute. She served on community boards and volunteered with numerous civic and church organizations, including Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, ROSMY (now Side by Side), = Leadership Metro Richmond and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Wanda S. Mitchell earned her doctorate degree in counseling from The College of William and Mary, her master’s degree in community counseling from Hampton University and her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgia Southern University.

Visitation will be held Thursday, Aug. 3 at Scott’s Chapel, 116 E. Brookland Park Blvd., from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5, at Simpson United Methodist Church, 800 Flat Street, Allendale, South Carolina.