Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and members of the Muslim Advocacy Task Force met with students, faculty and staff last week to discuss Muslim outreach initiatives on campus.
Muslim advocacy issues are a priority for leaders at VCU as universitywide discussions continue to place an emphasis on diversity and inclusion initiatives. In light of concerns about hostility toward American and international citizens who practice Islam, Rao had established the task force to dispel misconceptions about the Islamic religion, to support Muslim students on campus and to provide a safe space for productive dialogue about current events. At VCU, Muslim students, and those who are perceived as Muslim, have expressed general concerns for their personal safety given the international climate. The task force includes nine university leaders and staff members.
VCU has to be a place for all people, at all times.
In his opening remarks, Rao stressed that part of the learning experience at VCU is to learn about all people in the university community and to understand the backgrounds of all human beings. Rao encouraged the audience of approximately 70 attendees, particularly the students, to be leaders and allies in diversity efforts at VCU.
“VCU has to be a place for all people, at all times,” Rao said.
McKenna Brown, Ph.D., executive director for VCU’s Global Education Office, stressed that the university is committed to the safety, welfare and academic success of every student, inside and outside of class.
Rao explained that the task force is a building block in diversity and inclusion planning and he welcomed feedback on how best to move task force efforts forward.
Students and staff complimented VCU’s efforts to work on Muslim advocacy issues.
One student appreciated direct communication with university leaders, including those in the Division of Student Affairs and the VCU Police Department. When another student asked about plans for mandatory cultural awareness training, Rao confirmed that training opportunities for students, faculty and staff are being considered.
A faculty member expressed the desire to have financial resources dedicated to hiring staff for instruction on Middle Eastern issues. Rao said the university will need to take a deep look at funding structures and perhaps look outside VCU for financial partnerships. He mentioned efforts to work with community members in Richmond to establish a lecture series on democracy in India and would support the establishment of a similar program for, and with, the Muslim community.
Rao encouraged students to consider how Muslim alumni and Muslim community members in Richmond could be included in VCU initiatives.
The president’s Muslim Advocacy Task Force includes:
- Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D., vice president for inclusive excellence
- Charles Klink, Ph.D., interim vice provost for student affairs
- Luke Schultheis, Ph.D., vice provost, Office of Strategic Enrollment Management
- R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., executive director, Global Education Office
- John Venuti, assistant vice president for public safety and chief of police
- Amber Hill, Ph.D., director of international studies, Global Education Office
- Imad Damaj, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and toxicology
- Renee Russell, communications manager, Global Education Office
- Matthew Lovisa, coordinator of communications and marketing, Student Affairs
Students, faculty and staff members interested in becoming involved with the Muslim Advocacy Task Force can contact R. McKenna Brown in the Global Education Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VCU currently has two Diversity and Inclusion Surveys underway through April 29 – one for students and one for faculty and staff. Students who complete the survey will be entered into raffles for Starbucks gift cards and free parking passes. Links to the survey were sent via email to all students, faculty and staff on April 11.
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