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Update on action around diversity and inclusion

Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015

Dear VCU and VCU Health Communities,
During the past several weeks, we have had the opportunity to engage you in conversations that reinforce VCU’s core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. These discussions have been thoughtful and productive. Many thanks to all of you who have joined us in these important exchanges.   Informed by these conversations, we have continued our work to outline strategic and purposeful action, both immediate and long-term. Here are some immediate steps we are taking in five key areas:

Campus climate and culture

· We will administer a new campus climate survey in the spring semester, and will include responses from students. This survey was last conducted 3 years ago as part of the Great Place Initiative and was issued only to faculty and staff. This new broader survey will provide data that will allow us to monitor our progress regularly.

· University Ombudsperson William King now has an expanded role to serve in student mediation and conflict resolution. We will monitor demand and add qualified staff as needed.

· Within the spring semester, we will establish a bias response team that will operate through University Police and will ensure efficient, effective and appropriate response to incidents that may be characterized as bias motivated.

· In Fall 2016, we will open Lavender and MOSAIC housing for students involved in the on-going intellectual exchange about culture, diversity, and sexual identity, and those who wish to expand their cross-cultural understanding.

· A university-wide diversity action plan is due this spring. This plan is currently being drafted by the 24-member Council of Inclusive Excellence and Equity, which was established earlier this fall. More information is available here

Faculty and staff recruitment and retention

· Within the next year, we will double the number of senior faculty members and departmental leaders who participate in the Recruitment Inclusive Champion program. This is a 9-month cohort-based educational program focused on diverse recruitment efforts among the faculty. More information is available here.

· We will expand the Search Committee Training Workshops to include more content on the impact of unconscious bias on the recruitment of diverse faculty. In addition, we will create online training modules on search committee policies and procedures.

· During the spring, we will make decisions about resources to support cluster hiring, including in the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation (iCubed). More information on iCubed is available here.

· The Office of the Provost is finalizing guidelines that will support our ability to hire exceptional faculty, including faculty of color. The Office of the Provost and the Division of Inclusive Excellence are also completing their work on a robust faculty mentoring program.

Curriculum and the classroom

· We are offering a for-credit seminar course this spring on issues of diversity and inclusion, open to all students.

· We are ensuring that faculty have access to resources to effectively moderate discussion in the classroom and support students from diverse backgrounds. This information will be distributed by early spring.

Strengthening communications

· We are gathering information on our community’s far-reaching efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and bringing them together on a single website for easy access and reference. This website will launch this spring.

· Throughout the spring semester, we will conduct regular community feedback and listening sessions through roundtables, small group sessions, and similar events.

· We will continue to communicate our progress in many ways, including through social media, my blog, the university’s website, and through community discussions and work groups. Last week, the president charged his senior leadership team with making VCU’s culture and climate more inclusive, and the Board of Visitors is being briefed on this issue this week, at the rector’s request.

Professional development

· Members of the president’s cabinet and senior leadership team (including deans, vice provosts, and associate vice presidents) will undergo cultural competency training in January.

· The Division of Inclusive Excellence and the Staff Senate are piloting an employee ambassador program, which will launch this spring. This program will provide staff members with professional development and network opportunities.

The president has appointed a five-member group to oversee and coordinate the timely implementation of these executive initiatives. The President’s Action Group on Diversity and Inclusion includes Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Gail Hackett, Vice President for Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health Marsha Rappley, Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Wanda Mitchell, Director for Equity and Access Services Laura Rugless, and Associate Vice President for Human Resources Cathleen Burke. Their work is coordinated by the president’s senior assistant Kevin Allison and an external consultant.  These immediate actions will start to make an important difference for our university.  However, they are only the beginning. We will also take steps to make long-term, sustainable changes.  These include:

· Exploring the creation or expansion of supported community spaces for the campus community to interact and engage in difficult dialogues. · Developing plans to help faculty and staff search committees attract a more diverse pool of applicants, and to hold hiring officers more accountable.

· Exploring ways to make VCU’s curriculum more inclusive on all levels. This includes reviewing our UNIV100 course.

· Making our student support services, including counseling, more culturally competent.

· Revisiting and revising diversity action plans within individual units.

· Offering consulting, mentoring, and short- and long-term training to help faculty and staff members develop expertise in inclusive teaching. This includes expanding the Inclusive Teaching Institute.

We will announce other initiatives as they become more formalized. Our current discussions offer us the chance to build on the incredible asset our student diversity represents, as well as our achievements in supporting academic success for all students. We are fortunate to have a community so willing to engage in this important dialogue, and we know that VCU is well-positioned to continue our development as an inclusive 21st century urban research university.  We appreciate your support in this important and continuing work to ensure that our climate is—in no uncertain terms—safe, supportive, highly professional, and highly competent regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Sincerely,
Michael Rao
President VCU and VCU Health

Gail Hackett
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Marsha Rappley
Vice President for Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health

Wanda Mitchell
Vice President for Inclusive Excellence