Feb. 14-27, 2003
Back Issues
Petri seeks grant for biocontainment lab
Digest -- U.Va. news daily
Architect builds on race and culture in the urban fabric
‘Walk the talk’
What will it take to ‘walk the talk’ n diversity?

Housing fees hiked, bond issue OK’d

Faculty Actions from the February BOV meeting
Term is up
‘Patch’ Adams to give U.Va. dose of his healing humor Feb. 26
‘The Laramie Project’ examines Prejudice
Michaels: Global climate will not change markedly
‘Walk the talk’
What will it take to ‘walk the talk’ on diversity?
Leading a new diversity initiative at U.Va. are Gene Block, vice president and provost (left), Yoke San Reynolds, vice president for finance, and Robert Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs.
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Leading a new diversity initiative at U.Va. are Gene Block, vice president and provost (left), Yoke San Reynolds, vice president for finance, and Robert Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs.

By Anne Bromley

Since the late 1960s and early ’70s, when the institution opened its doors to African Americans and women, desegregation has been part of U.Va.’s past. Efforts to create a truly inclusive community, however, are very much a part of its present and foreseeable future.

Women students, at 55 percent of the undergraduate student body, outnumber men. Asian Americans make up almost 11 percent of the student population, and African Americans about 9 percent. Other minority numbers are increasing. But the University has had less success in attracting and retaining women and minority faculty.

In the last decade, several committees and task forces have met to examine and improve the University’s multicultural fabric. But notions of tradition die hard, and false starts and detours have made for slow going.

The last University-wide initiative, “Charting Diversity,” began with a symposium in February 2000 but floundered because of leadership changes and bad timing. Dealing with the state’s budget crisis has absorbed much of the administration’s attention.

Now, however, a new initiative is taking the pulse of diversity at Thomas Jefferson’s university and aims to pick up the pace toward creating a broader multicultural climate. “Envision Diversity” is part of the larger “Envision” process that’s helping leaders prioritize areas that will advance the University.

Source: Office of Institutional
Assessment and Studies

Over the past 15 months, classified staff, administrators and teaching faculty were asked to meet and discuss the current environment for diversity at U.Va.
“The discussions were most heart-felt,” said Karen Holt, director of Equal Opportunity Programs.

“It was a constructive environment,” agreed Yoke San Reynolds, vice president for finance. “I think the staff appreciated being asked. They were sincere and frank.”

Long-time U.Va. employees said they have noticed “a shift in attitude from a time when diversity was imposed by federal mandate to a time when the University is working on its own to build a diverse community at all levels of the institution,” according to a summary of the sessions.

Still, employees often feel they’re living in two worlds.

Administrators and staff members described how unsettling it can be to walk into a meeting where “no one else looks like you.” At work, they embody one persona that adapts to the mainstream culture.

At home, they can let down their guards and be themselves.

Robert Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs, said, “We can’t change the culture here like that,” snapping his fingers. “But I’m a firm believer that if you change behavior, it can become the way you do things. You’ve got to walk the talk.”

He joined with Gene Block, vice president and provost, almost two years ago to explore possibilities for the University’s future in “Envision Virginia” meetings held in each of the 10 schools. Several concerns, especially diversity, kept coming up, leading Sweeney and Block to hold additional meetings on specific topics, including diversity. They invited Reynolds, who oversees human resources, to work with them.

Holt said this core group of leaders might have the critical mass necessary to make changes. She also identified Patricia Lampkin, vice president for student affairs; Dr. Ariel Gomez, interim vice provost for research and graduate studies; and Craig Littlepage, director of athletics, as part of this core group.

Members of U.Va.’s Black Student Alliance, and other students, met with President Frank L. Hereford in the mid-1970s urging him to establish an office to address minority concerns.
Photo courtesy of “Corks and Curls” yearbook, 1976
Members of U.Va.’s Black Student Alliance, and other students, met with President Frank L. Hereford in the mid-1970s urging him to establish an office to address minority concerns. In 1976, the University formally established the Office of Minority Affairs, now the Office of African-American Affairs.

Assigning a group of connected leaders to “own” this area, to provide resources and to be accountable for results is essential, said U.Va. alumnus John Peoples, who facilitated the staff and administrative faculty meetings. The leaders also must have a vision and a plan that people can rally behind, said Peoples, who is a partner in Global Lead, a firm that offers training in diversity awareness and minority recruiting.

M. Rick Turner, dean of African-American Affairs, said, “Just as we had a plan that has been successful in bringing more African-American students to U.Va., we need a plan for doing the same with faculty and staff.”

With efforts such as the Peer Adviser Program and Spring Fling, an event for prospective African-American students and their families to visit the Grounds, the University has attracted an increasing number of black students, enrolling the highest percentage among top-ranked universities for five years in a row, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education’s 2002 ranking. The graduation rate for African Americans is 85 percent after five years and has grown steadily over the last decade.

Fostering Diversity

In the “Envision Diversity” sessions, classified staff, administrative faculty and teaching faculty called for the University to establish clearly defined goals for diversity and to measure its progress. Suggestions include:

• Offering more opportunities for continuing education and professional development, while making greater effort to encourage minority employees to take them.

• Evaluating supervisors on their ability to foster or create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for diversity.

• Ensuring that people of color are well-represented in key leadership positions, from the Board of Visitors on down.

• Encouraging mentoring, a buddy system and information sharing so that new staff and faculty can develop the knowledge and networks they need to perform well.

• Make multicultural sensitivity camps mandatory for department chairs and supervisors.

• Creating more residential colleges and theme houses to promote diversity in student culture and to serve as a counterweight to traditional fraternities and sororities.

• Adding a required course that focuses on diversity on a personal level.

• Expand the idea of diversity to encompass not only race, but also gay and lesbian groups, as well as other cultures and ethnicities.

• Establishing an office for recruitment of minority staff and faculty, and for helping spouses find jobs.

However, the Journal notes that in recent years black freshman students and overall black enrollment at U.Va. has dropped, and the overall percentage of black faculty here has dropped over the past five years.

With those factors in mind, the vice presidents and Littlepage will meet this month to review suggestions from the “Envision Diversity” sessions. They will focus initially on identifying ways to act quickly to sustain the momentum.

The difficulty of attracting and retaining minorities and women in all employment groups came up at each meeting. Among full-time faculty, about 4 percent are African American and 33 percent are women. The percentage of African-American employees has stayed the same — about 14 percent — for the past dozen years, and African-Americans still occupy positions mostly at the lower end of the pay scale.

“This situation perpetuates itself because women and minorities look at such numbers and assume that this is not a place where their careers will thrive,” said a summary written after an “Envision Diversity” session specifically for academic faculty. Nevertheless, Block and other vice presidents say they are committed to tackling the problem.

Holt said the University is trying new ways to post jobs, such as advertising in publications or networks that are targeted for minorities. Academic and administrative supervisors are now being evaluated on their performance in this process to ensure accountability.

In the “Envision” sessions, participants acknowledged the benefits of diversity and said they need more emphasis.

“Diversity contributes to the University’s ability to generate and disseminate knowledge,” says a summary from a faculty session. Scholars and researchers of diverse backgrounds bring a range of values and perspectives.

Reynolds said she would like to build diversity awareness into supervisory training. “We need to broaden viewpoints so people can see that cultural differences can be valuable.” For example, a diverse workforce can contribute better solutions to problems, she said.

The need to emphasize diversity was underscored this fall when three white U.Va. fraternity members dressed in “blackface” at a Halloween party. In response, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III sent a memo to the University community saying such incidents must not undermine progress, and the work of building “racial tolerance and mutual respect” must continue. Speaking before the Faculty Senate, Casteen emphasized that the University must take full measure of the unvarnished history of the institution.

For Turner, the “Envision Diversity” initiative “has to be a serious and open venture. I’m waiting to see what will come out of it and will happily participate.”
Although participants in the “Envision Diversity” sessions expressed frustration about all the talking done over the years, they echoed Turner’s cautious optimism, saying that if the University is committed to diversity and the discussions lead to effective actions, they are willing to be part of it.

When asked what kinds of headlines they’d like to read someday that would show progress, one came up in every session.

“U.Va. Appoints First African-American Woman President.”

TJ gets mixed reviews

The continued use of Thomas Jefferson’s image to represent the University sends mixed messages about U.Va., said participants in the “Envision Diversity” sessions. It makes the University seem stuck in its past as an elitist, traditional Southern institution.

“While many [employees] see the University’s history as one of its core strengths, and while they may even acknowledge the power of Jeffersonian ideals, they find it hard to get past the fact that Jefferson owned slaves and described their race in hurtful and bigoted terms,” a summary said.



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