Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015
The Richmond Salons in the University Student Commons were bursting at the seams Wednesday with students, faculty, staff and alumni eager to discuss diversity and inclusion at Virginia Commonwealth University.
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., announced the hour-long Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion last week after a group of students rallied at the Compass in support of black students at the University of Missouri protesting discrimination.
At a meeting with the president last Friday, students shared their concerns about diversity and inclusion at VCU, including a lack of black faculty, the need for cultural competency training, hiring an ombudsperson to respond to student concerns and more financial support for cultural student organizations.
Rao credited the students for prompting an important conversation.
I do believe that we all have the same vision for VCU – that everyone of any background can and will thrive and be successful.
“I do believe that we all have the same vision for VCU – that everyone of any background can and will thrive and be successful,” Rao said. “We have a very clear vision. We know that the success of our people is at the center of it.”
The audience burst into applause when Rao told them “I want you to know that I think black lives matter.”
Following Rao’s introductory remarks, student Angelique Scott invited other student organizers to join her in front of the room as she read a prepared statement.
“What the black students at Mizzou are currently experiencing could be at VCU,” Scott said. “While VCU’s racial tension is not at their highest, VCU has failed black students at many levels. We are tired of hearing about old initiatives that have not reached measurable outcomes. We need VCU to end its search for cosmetic diversity and reach real diversity.”
During the open forum that followed, concerns were raised about hiring and retaining black faculty, “burnout” for black faculty, the need for improved communications about current efforts, cultural competency and respect in the classroom, support of staff diversity and financial support for the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Division for Inclusive Excellence. One student raised concerns about safety and support for Muslim students because of an increase in Islamophobia following terror attacks around the world.
The entire forum was livestreamed and some faculty showed the streaming video in their classrooms. A recording of the forum is available for review at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4kwYk4VbPE
“This forum will shape and inform our next steps,” Rao said. “While we’ve made significant progress, we have a lot of work to do. I’ll be communicating before the Thanksgiving break about where we are headed. We do need change and hope to accomplish more engagement.”
Rao also said the Division for Inclusive Excellence is working on a strategic diversity action plan that will be completed in May 2016.
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