Online diversity education for incoming Virginia Tech students.

New cultural centers on campus.

A surge in underrepresented faculty hires.

These are some of the ways that Virginia Tech is striving to create an inclusive and diverse culture on campus. On May 3, during a campus town hall meeting, President Tim Sands and Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for inclusion and diversity, outlined these and other strides that the university is making to expand its diversity efforts.

Students, faculty, and staff packed two rooms inside Pamplin Hall for the town hall gathering. More than 100 people watched via live stream from Virginia Tech’s campuses in Roanoke and Northern Virginia. Sands and Pratt-Clarke answered questions from the audience for about 90 minutes in the last half of the meeting.

Understanding people and their life experiences is important because it reflects Virginia Tech’s commitment to its land grant mission and its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Sands said.

“We have to understand the people we’re serving.”

In 2014, the university launched InclusiveVT, which is defined as the institutional and individual commitment to its motto in the spirit of community, diversity, and excellence. Among the Inclusive VT executive council’s goals are increasing faculty, staff, and student diversity, and ensuring a welcoming, safe, and accessible campus climate.

Underrepresented students comprise about 15 percent of this fall’s newest class of Hokies, the highest percentage ever, Sands told the town hall audience. Even so, “we’ve seen steady improvement, but not at a rate that allows us to close the gap,” he said.

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Natasha Saunders, director of recruitment for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, asked a question during the town hall.

The underrepresented population includes low-income, racial minority, and/or first-generation college students.

Also, the number of new underrepresented faculty hired at Virginia Tech is expected to double this year, Sands said.

Additionally, all new Virginia Tech students are required to complete an online diversity education program, while employees on job search committees must undergo unconscious bias training.

“We cannot eliminate bias, but I do think we can create a culture at Virginia Tech that’s diverse,  welcoming, and affirming,” said Pratt-Clarke during the town hall.

Another initiative, InclusiveVT Project 2022 aims to increase the number of underrepresented students who consider, apply to, and are accepted at Virginia Tech.

Last summer, the university hosted the Black College Institute, an academic enrichment program for underrepresented high school students to live on campus and learn about college life. There were more than 600 applications for this year’s event, planned for June 23-28.

Despite these efforts, Sands said Virginia Tech still has work to do, referring to the results of a recent LGBTQ climate survey.

“This is a narrative that’s in progress,” he said. “It’s up to us to shape it.”

Virginia Tech is up for the challenge, said Pratt-Clarke. During the town hall, she noted that Virginia Tech was one of 16 universities named a Diversity Champion by INSIGHT into Diversity magazine last year. The magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education, names institutions that set standards for other campus communities in diversity and inclusion work as Diversity Champions.

“What is unique about Virginia Tech is that I think we are better positioned than many institutions to refine, address, and transform,” said Pratt-Clarke.

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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Michele Deramo, assistant provost for diversity education in Virginia Tech's Office for Inclusion and Diversity, spoke during the town hall.
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