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A BOV special committee and a presidential commission
University Announces Two New Diversity Initiatives to Take Lead in Recommending Changes

April 3, 2003-- Stressing the need to send a strong message that the University of Virginia is addressing diversity issues, University President John T. Casteen III and Gordon F. Rainey Jr., the newly elected rector of the University’s Board of Visitors, today announced the creation of two groups that will be charged with evaluating University initiatives that address diversity and identifying action steps and policy changes.

“Recent events at the University have been a sad reminder that there is still much work to be done to create a truly open and civil community,” Casteen said in announcing the President’s Commission on Diversity and Equity. “While that work takes on a new urgency, I am convinced that we have the commitment and dedication of our students, staff and faculty in assessing where we are and creating a vision of where we must go to achieve a more welcoming community for every individual.”

Rainey said board members began discussions about a special diversity committee prior to Feb. 26, when a candidate for Student Council reported a racially motivated assault. Two weeks ago, the Board’s Special Committee on Governance met to make such a recommendation, and today the special committee was established.

"It is the Board’s responsibility to take a leadership role on this issue and to let members of the University community know that it is important to all of us,” Rainey said. “I applaud President Casteen’s action and believe that our two groups can work together in seamless coordination and cooperation. This is important work, and I feel strongly that it needs to be done promptly and thoughtfully.”

In addition to the attack reported by second-year student Daisy Lundy, who has since been elected president of Student Council, an incident on Halloween involving three University students dressed in blackface at a fraternity party brought diversity issues to the surface.

The responsibility of the board’s special committee will include an evaluation of efforts to promote diversity among students, faculty and administrators as well as with residents of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The committee will meet with representatives of these groups and others it deems appropriate, and will make an initial report at the Board's July retreat.

Among the first areas the board’s group is expected to address are:

  • The scope of efforts to promote diversity among members of the student body, faculty of all schools, staff and administrators;
  • The scope of efforts to promote diversity in external relations of the University, including relations with surrounding communities and all aspects of procurement of goods and services;
  • Efforts to promote understanding among all elements of the University community; and
  • The appropriate role of the board in continuing oversight of diversity issues.

The special committee idea received vigorous support from numerous board members, including Warren M. Thompson, who at January’s board meeting called for a resolution in the aftermath of the blackface incident to support all students having a positive impact on the University community and disappointment with the thoughtless acts of a few.

"It’s time to face facts," said Thompson, who today was named chairman of the special committee. "We are being challenged in ways that we have not been challenged before, and unless we take aggressive steps, we will damage the reputation of our University. … We as a board need to send a strong message that we’re doing something about diversity."

While the board’s special committee is due to have an initial report this summer, Casteen’s commission will conduct its work over a one-year period, with a final report due May 1, 2004.

Part of the commission’s charge is to identify gaps in programs and suggest remedies for filling them, to review previous University studies on diversity and equity, to examine comparable programs elsewhere for recommendations that should be implemented and to develop a best practices model. The commission also will recommend board-level policy changes to the board's special committee.

Casteen and Rainey expressed optimism despite recent events, which Casteen said at the time “insulted and offended the University community’s core values of racial tolerance, civility and mutual respect.” In discussing both groups, Casteen said, “We have a shared obligation to implement changes that say clearly to everyone who joins our community: You are welcome, you are safe and you are respected.”

Contact: Carol Wood, (434) 924-1400

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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