explores strategies for fostering diversity at U.Va.
E. Holt brings to her job as Equal
Opportunity Programs director the zeal of a crusader and the
toughness of a cop, tempered by an open mind and graciousness.
Besides trying to create a welcoming climate at U.Va. for anyone
who might apply, study or work here, she strives to spread the
message throughout the University community that discrimination
in any form wont be tolerated.
taken the reins at an organization that had seen three interim
directors in the three years prior to her appointment in 1997,
Holt has transformed the EOP into a vital player at the University.
To ensure that U.Va. does not discriminate in any of its procedures,
Holts office develops and implements training programs;
addresses discrimination complaints; creates affirmative action
plans; monitors admissions and faculty recruitment and retention;
and produces a variety of materials to educate the University
community about equal opportunity policies.
a recent interview, Holt described strategies for fostering diversity
How would you define your offices mission?
Our mission is to help develop and implement the Universitys
non-discrimination and affirmative action policies, ensuring that
each person student, faculty, staff or member of the public
interacting with any part of the University is given the
same opportunities as any other person.
How have you communicated that mission to employees throughout
the University and engaged their support?
We do a lot of outreach. We talk to employee communication councils,
to committees, to orientation programs, try to get out to all
the constituent groups. We try to tie what we do into the Universitys
mission, [talking about] what its values have been historically.
try to keep the door open. Im reminded of two managers who
supervised different components of a group of employees. Both
said they had an open-door policy. But one never walked out of
the door. He would talk to anybody who wanted to come talk to
him, but what emerged over a period of time is that the same employees
would talk to him and he was seen as having favorites.
other person would walk out, and he knew all of the employees,
knew what their demeanor was like, knew if somebody looked like
they were having problems, if they were angry or sad. He would
say, Lets go for a walk or a cup of coffee,
and he was seen by the employees as much more receptive if they
What areas of the University have been most successful in supporting
your offices mission, and how so?
I hesitate to even list places, because it would be much harder
to say who has not been supportive. A lot of areas call on us
for feedback and for review.
example, in Facilities
Management, when they have vacancies, early on they will send
a draft of a position description, even for classified positions,
asking for input on how it is phrased, what qualities are included
and where the recruiting efforts should be directed. Were
also called over on a regular basis to help in their supervisory
training, because they want to make sure their employees see us
and know us.
[Robert W.] Cantrell [vice president and provost] in the Medical
Center has engaged me in discussions since I started here. If
I sent a proclamation or policy change and he had an issue with
it, hed call me and wed have a good discussion about
lot of people have invited us to talk to their supervisory staff.
Leonard [W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating
officer] has been very open in doing that.
& Sciences also has worked closely with us.
How do you go about convincing people who dont see the point
of making the University a more diverse place to change their
attitudes? How do you begin to change a culture?
I think first of all by asking myself why I am doing what Im
doing. I cant convince somebody else unless Ive convinced
myself, and I think you have to do a lot of reflection before
you go out and start to be judgmental about other people. I know
that I come from a humanities bias, [thinking] that this is the
right thing to do, but I also recognize that not everyone has
the same priorities.
think you have to look at peoples [work] priorities. I dont
want to change those, because these people are the experts in
their fields, so I have to think about how what I do affects their
priorities. How do the interests of diversity relate to their
goals to have the most stellar research in a particular
area, the most outstanding student body or the best patient care?
here are responsive to comparisons with other places we respect.
For example, we know we probably have work to do in our hard sciences
in terms of national rankings. When we read that nine top research
institutions are devoting the next year to looking at issues of
gender equity in the sciences, thats a compelling argument
that diversity is important.
have been a driving force in recognizing diversity as a value,
looking at barriers they might have set up in employment and looking
for family-friendly approaches. Theyre doing that because
they have an obligation to the shareholders to maximize their
productivity. Darden is attuned
to these developments and is one of the leaders [at U.Va.] in
talking about diversity issues.
There are certain things about U.Va.s culture that dont
serve us as the world changes around us, so we need to ask, What
should we do differently?
think we need to be a little bit more open when weve made
decisions that cause problems, acknowledging them and explaining
why, because when youre dealing with discrimination, silence
is the thing that convinces people the most that what was going
on was discriminatory. Were very stoic about things and
maybe we feel that if we talk about it, its going to show
weakness, but I think we need to communicate more openly about
personally have gotten some criticism for investigations weve
conducted or decisions weve approved where people had a
problem with how we went about doing it. It gives me another perspective,
reminding me that my view is not the only view, and that even
if I might do the same thing over again, it either tests my commitment
to what I did, or it gives me some perspective on how to communicate
it better, or what else could have been done to have made the
decision better received.
When people are uncomfortable discussing diversity issues, how
do you go about breaking the ice?
One of the things somebody in this job has to acknowledge is that
their own characteristics play a tremendous role in how theyre
perceived. What groups they have credibility with and what groups
they dont. Whats seen as their soap box or issues.
Being a white woman, I think, plays a big part in how Im
perceived. If Im asked to talk about race, one of the things
that has to be said up front is that Im white.
gets back to being more open, discussing [our identities]. I think
one of the hardest challenges right now is engaging white men
in this discussion. Diversity is something we all have
white men have a race and a gender that affects how we see them.
What prepared you for this job?
The biggest lessons Ive learned in my career were through
my first job after law school, with the Civil Rights Division
of the Department of Justice, particularly the section that enforced
conditions in prisons, mental retardation facilities, mental institutions
came in as the replacement attorney in the midst of complex, multi-year
civil rights legislation. A case may have been going on for five
years and Id be plopped down in an unfamiliar courtroom
to argue a portion of the case, dealing with complex matters in
front of hostile federal judges. If you walk out of there and
youre still breathing and youre upright basically,
no matter what group I have to face here or how badly I think
the message is going to be received, it cant be worse than
think having the J.D. and the Ph.D. helps. I have an appreciation
for whats involved in conducting an academic search, as
well as for legal concerns.
What has been your greatest accomplishment since you arrived?
I think this office has transformed itself into being a place
that has as much information coming out as it does going into
it. I would hope our greatest accomplishment is our willingness
to be visible and participate even before theres a problem.
now use e-forms for our faculty recruitment process, making it
easier for people, and compliance has gone way up. I think weve
become more rigorous and consistent in ensuring policies are followed,
particularly recruitment policies.
think our oversight is more accurate and more thorough. We have
all these brochures and a wonderful Web site. Were doing
training. Weve reviewed and altered every policy. Weve
put out a [93-page] EO plan that is available on the Web site.
What area needs to be tackled next?
I think theres a lot that still could be done for classified
staff. Were working on [diversity] climate issues with Brad
Holland [the University ombudsman]. The Presidents Office
has agreed we should pursue seeking proposals for a consultant
to conduct a climate study across the University for faculty and
would like to see more cohesiveness among all the multi-cultural
and diversity efforts at the University.
think it was awful this year that the University didnt do
anything for Martin Luther King [Jr.s birthday.]
feel like were not doing programmatic things that we could
do. I look at other institutions that are sponsoring more speakers
and having more events and I think it would be wonderful if we
could do more.
dont know that, despite all of our efforts, were really
addressing the need to increase minority and women faculty.
any institution or entity, were in a complex and changing
environment, and we need to position ourselves to deal with that
as effectively as possible.
census figures reveal that our traditional ways of looking at
needs and issues are being challenged by an influx of people from
different backgrounds with different perspectives. We need to
be aware of the value of diversity of attribute and perspective.
want to bring people to the realization that there are multiple
ways of looking at things and they can be informed and their decisions
made better by listening to others.
our discriminatory harassment training, we have something called
the platinum rule. Whereas the golden rule says to treat others
the way you want to be treated, the platinum rule says to put
yourself in someone elses shoes. Rather than saying, This
is how Id see it if I were in their shoes, ask them,
What is it like to walk in your shoes?
a lot of outstanding social science work being done in this area.
The educational experience of students and faculty is more positive
when theyre in a diverse classroom. Its been shown
that people exposed to more diverse educational settings tend
to do more volunteer work in their communities after graduation.
policy decision is more sound the more different perspectives
you consider in reaching it. If youre surrounded by people
just like you, the limits of what you can do are your limits.