Walk the talk
What will it take to walk the talk
by Andrew Shurtleff
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
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
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.
the last decade, several committees and task forces have met to
examine and improve the Universitys multicultural fabric.
of tradition die hard, and false starts and detours have made
for slow going.
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 states
budget crisis has absorbed much of the administrations attention.
however, a new initiative is taking the pulse of diversity at
Thomas Jeffersons university and aims to pick up the pace
toward creating a broader multicultural climate. Envision
Diversity is part of the larger Envision process
thats helping leaders prioritize areas that will advance
Office of Institutional
Assessment and Studies
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
was a constructive environment, agreed Yoke San Reynolds,
vice president for finance. I think the staff appreciated
being asked. They were sincere and frank.
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.
employees often feel theyre living in two worlds.
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.
Sweeney, senior vice president for development
and public affairs, said, We cant change the culture
here like that, snapping his fingers. But Im
a firm believer that if you change behavior, it can become the
way you do things. Youve got to walk the talk.
joined with Gene Block, vice
president and provost, almost two years ago to explore possibilities
for the Universitys 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.
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.
courtesy of Corks and Curls yearbook, 1976
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.
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.
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.
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 Educations 2002 ranking.
The graduation rate for African Americans is 85 percent after
five years and has grown steadily over the last decade.
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
Expand the idea of diversity to encompass not only race,
but also gay and lesbian groups, as well as other cultures
Establishing an office for recruitment of minority staff
and faculty, and for helping spouses find jobs.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
the Envision sessions, participants acknowledged the
benefits of diversity and said they need more emphasis.
contributes to the Universitys ability to generate and disseminate
knowledge, says a summary from a faculty session. Scholars
and researchers of diverse backgrounds bring a range of values
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,
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
Turner, the Envision Diversity initiative has
to be a serious and open venture. Im 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 Turners 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.
asked what kinds of headlines theyd like to read someday
that would show progress, one came up in every session.
Appoints First African-American Woman President.
gets mixed reviews
continued use of Thomas Jeffersons 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
many [employees] see the Universitys 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