Letter to VCU community - Nov. 26, 2018

Dear VCU and VCU Health communities,

On Nov. 16, VCU President Michael Rao issued a statement reaffirming our core values and profound commitment to diversity and inclusion. The statement promised an update on the steps we will take to preserve these core values and to ensure a culture of accountability, fairness and justice. We are prepared to share an overview of our thoughts and reflections here and then provide more detail during a university forum scheduled for Dec. 3, from noon to 1:30 p.m., in the University Student Commons’ Richmond Salons.

There is no question about the progress we have made toward greater diversity among our faculty, staff and students. Today we enroll more first generation and Pell-eligible students than most other universities in the commonwealth. We have had unprecedented growth in the number of underrepresented minority faculty, an 11 percent increase in the past two years alone. This percentage increase is higher than all of our peer research universities. There also is evidence of broader representation among gender, non-binary and social identities across our university than at any other time in our 50-year history. Further, this year even, we have garnered recognition for diversity in terms of national awards and press.

Diversity, however, is not the same as inclusion. We are reminded of this every time an individual or group on our campus is treated differently, excluded or singled out because of their appearance or some other identifying characteristic. Our university is not immune to the few who act in a manner contrary to the core values safeguarded by the many. We also realize that individual or single incidents of bias can reveal more pervasive issues involving institutional and systemic discrimination. Individuals can feel emboldened by contexts and cultures, local or otherwise, which seem indifferent to or permissive of such ways of being.

Bias, whether it is explicit or implicit, can have a devastating impact on the physical and psychological safety and well-being of our employees, patients and students. Bias deters the healing and learning process, and it fundamentally alters our progress and success in the workplace, clinic and classroom. So this is why we will strive to cultivate a university culture that is free from individual, institutional and systemic bias. Our university is now engaged in a comprehensive review of its related policies, practices and procedures to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Sincerely,

Gail Hackett, Ph.D.
Provost and senior vice president for academic affairs

Marsha Rappley, M.D.
Vice president for health sciences, CEO VCU Health System

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D.
Vice president for inclusive excellence