Diversity Commission chairs meet with Board

Politics Prof. Michael J. Smith and Angela Davis, associate dean of students for student life, met for the first time with the Board of Visitors' Special Committee on Diversity in the board room of the Rotunda yesterday.

Davis and Smith are co-chairs of the President's Commission on Diversity and Equity, which is charged with assessing the quality of the student experience within the University with special attention to the experiences of women and minorities.

Davis and Smith reiterated the themes, such as retention and recruitment of minority faculty, which were discussed at the President's Commission's first meeting last month.

The Commission will hold meetings throughout the fall, including a mid-October retreat, and will present a report to the Board at the beginning of spring semester.

The President's Commission will look to peer institutions to identify "best practices" models that may then be implemented at the University, Smith said.

"We will look seriously at practices at our peer institutions -- and have already, with the help of staff, gathered considerable data," he said. "We will consider ideas about structural changes, including the possibility of a dedicated position in the senior administration; we'll discuss the possibilities for curricular change."

Classroom-based diversity training may help students to feel more comfortable with encountering diversity outside the academic setting, Davis said.

But beyond curricular change, the Commission hopes to work with existing student groups to support their activism, Davis and Smith said.

"We want to draw on the energy and initiatives that already exist; we want to join with all groups here and in the wider community to address these issues," Smith said.

The Commission also is charged with researching strategies to increase the population of minority faculty at the University, which Davis acknowledged will be difficult.

"Recruitment and retention of minority faculty is still a challenge facing the institution," Davis said.

The Commission will investigate the source of the University's difficulty with recruiting and retaining minority faculty, seeking to determine which elements of the community climate can be changed to make the institution more attractive.

Both the Board of Visitors' Special Committee on Diversity and the President's Commission on Diversity and Equity were formed last spring, in part as a response to incidences of racial intolerance at the University, including a blackface incident at a fraternity party and the alleged racially-motivated assault of then-Student Council presidential candidate Daisy Lundy.

While the Commission certainly will do its best to fulfill the mandates set for it by University President John T. Casteen, III, Davis pointed to a broader goal.

"As we continue to make strides in diversifying our programs and curriculum, our mandate should be to ensure that we educate our students to be good citizens of the world, and that all members of the University community are valued, included, empowered and given a level playing field on which to succeed," she said.

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