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New initiatives, hires highlight WVU’s commitment to ensuring an inclusive campus

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The Mountaineer Statue looks toward Woodburn Circle on a warm late winter afternoon Friday, March 12, 2021. (WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard)

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From classrooms and laboratories to residence halls, meeting rooms and a variety of nearby shops and restaurants, West Virginia University is focused on fostering a more inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff that extends across the University and beyond.

In June 2020, President Gordon Gee committed to improving efforts throughout the University system through short-term actions and long-term goals.

“In our work over the past several months, we have discovered there are many new activities occurring across our University system to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus environment,” Gee said. “But we also realized there were a lot of programs already in place that needed to be shared with a wider audience. We have been developing not only new initiatives, but also ensuring existing resources are elevated to raise awareness of the opportunities on our campuses.”

One way leaders from across the WVU system can now engage is through an overarching DEI Council created by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The council will develop goals and best practices to ensure that the University is creating a safe, diverse and welcoming community. The council is the next step in ongoing efforts to establish diversity, equity and inclusion committees within colleges, schools and units across the system.

“The DEI Council is a crucial part of WVU’s commitment to ensuring that an inclusive culture exists,” Vice President for DEI Meshea L. Poore said. “We understand that capacity-building is central to the success of the diversity efforts on campus, and this effort brings insights from across the University under one umbrella allowing University-wide ownership for diversity, equity and inclusion education and initiatives, which helps us move forward with intentionality in our commitment.”

Beyond Morgantown, West Virginia University Potomac State College in Keyser is offering a new Diversity Peer Academy that pairs first-year students with peer mentors in this free, five-week program. A social justice committee also has been formed and a diversity coordinator is now in place to help oversee DEI activities.

Similarly, the West Virginia University Institute of Technology has created a social justice committee to advance diversity, and student advocacy organizations, Tech Alliance, Black Student Union and International Student Organization, are active on the Beckley campus.

The work continues on many of the recommendations from the working groups organized last summer, while other initiatives have been born out of further conversations concerning the University’s needs. WVU announced several updates in the fall and since then, additional projects have been initiated, as well as a continuing audit of existing programs. The following highlights new initiatives, as well as current programs to increase awareness.

Academics

Amena Anderson, assistant professor of practice and assistant director of the WVU ADVANCE Center was appointed as Provost Fellow for the development of the newly formed Faculty Justice Network in January. Since her appointment, an advisory team of faculty from historically underrepresented and/or minoritized racial/ethnic groups has worked with Anderson to decide its FJN priorities. Those priorities include:

  • foster connections between its members;
  • be responsive to the expressed social, cultural, academic and professional development needs of its members; and
  • curate a culturally-reflective physical space on campus where its members can sponsor both culturally-responsive professional and community development programming, regularly interact with each other and support critical connections with both professional staff and students from their racial/ethnic groups.

The Advance Center also announced an inclusive hiring initiative in October. This initiative aims to attract and retain a more diverse WVU faculty by focusing on recruitment during the hiring process.

In addition, in February 2020, the Office of the Provost launched University Mission Hires, a pilot program designed to hire and retain underrepresented faculty. The program provides up to $150,000 per year to hire two underrepresented faculty members, and it allows for an expedited process and timeline for making targeted hires. To date, four new faculty members have been hired, three will start in Fall 2021, and one joins our campus in Fall 2022.  The Provost’s Office will solicit requests in Fall 2021 to support two new faculty hires in 2022-23. The Office has also made a focus on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education as a primary part of its faculty development and leadership development workshop program.

Scholarship opportunities are growing for students, including a new scholarship created as a tribute to NASA pioneer Katherine Johnson. The Scholarship will be awarded to undergraduate students within the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, with first preference given to African American students in the Department of Mathematics. Alumna Deborah Miller established the endowed Katherine Johnson Math Scholarship to honor the late mathematician.

A special crowdfunding campaign in 2020 that brought DEI and the WVU Foundation together to assist underrepresented students raised $7,000. The University has already started awarding funds from that effort to students. In March, the fourth Day of Giving raised more than $48,000 for diversity funds, including the Horace and Geraldine Belmear Scholarship.

High-achieving students of color who are completing or have completed a bachelor’s degree, or are enrolled in a master’s degree program will have an opportunity next month to hear from professionals in a variety of fields as part of DEI’s Colloquium for Underrepresented Aspiring Doctoral Candidates. This joint recruitment venture of WVU and the Higher Education Policy Commission is part of the Chancellor’s Scholar’s Fellowship, a competitive scholarship for underrepresented students accepted into or enrolled in a qualifying doctoral program at any participating West Virginia higher education institution. Students who participate in the Colloquium are given priority status when considered for a fellowship position. The registration deadline is April 4.

Rise WVU creates opportunities for Black, Latinx and other diverse students to build an academic community and persist towards graduation. Activities include the RISE First-Year Seminar Course, mentoring opportunities with faculty and staff where students can earn one credit hour, and one-on-one coaching with a graduate student to improve academic success.

Campus Environment

WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research has long provided educational, social and cultural support for African and African American students, faculty, staff and community members. Students Achieving and Reaching Success, is a five-week program specifically designed to immerse African American students in activities that help foster cultural adjustment, build a solid academic foundation and develop leadership skills. Students collaborate with other programs such as Adventure WV and participate in community service projects. The 2019 class of Academic STARS visited the National African American Museum of History and Culture. Since its inception in 2008, the program has increased persistence and degree completion for more than 200 students.

The Quad, specifically designed for students of color, is one of several living and learning communities on campus. Part of the Evansdale Residential Complex (Tower), the learning community focuses on culture, connections, engagement, academics and service. Students interested in this community need to complete an application.

WVU’s Campus and Community Life serves the entire student body providing a variety of services. The LGBTQ+ Center, Council for Women’s Concerns, Women’s Resource Center, Office of Global Affairs, Office of Accessibility Services and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute also offer unique programs, resources and opportunities for students, faculty and staff.

Many colleges, schools and units have developed programs and support resources for their own communities. A few include Health Sciences, where the Health Sciences Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team is expanding to include a Diversity Student Outreach Coordinator and a DEI Liaison. The DEI Liaison will serve as the primary point of contact for HSC DEI initiatives, while the coordinator will develop academic and cultural programming and events to build community among diverse student populations and their allies.

The Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offers various initiatives including the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education resources, a collection of library resources to support the work of instructors, administrators and anyone at WVU interested in learning more on social justice issues in higher education.

The John Chambers College of Business and Economics is encouraging inclusive practices and classroom environments with a web page that includes tips and ideas on how to foster a more inclusive classroom environment.

Athletics established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee over the summer and has since developed a website to support its diversity efforts.

University Relations and Enrollment Management has created three committees that are focusing on DEI education, recruitment and marketing. The team recently completed a Black Student Campus Experience focus group to better understand and meet the needs of the University’s Black students.

Also, the Honors College is piloting test-blind admission stages with the intention of transitioning to an entirely open, test-blind process within a few years.

Safety

The University is dedicated to providing a safe learning, working and living environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors. Safety.wvu.edu is the first stop for those who want more resources related to safety issues and concerns.

The site also includes a section outlining inclusive resources on campus, a link to the Would You bystander campaign, information about WVU’s Alert system and how to report a safety concern on campus.

University Police has increased its presence within residence halls and across campus offering a variety of campus safety resources.

A new WVU Public Safety Advisory Committee begins meeting in April to provide transparency, vision and guidance regarding the delivery of public safety services to the University. Additional details will be shared with the campus community via E-News and Unews in the coming weeks.

The LGBTQ+ Center offers Safe Zone Training which provides faculty, staff and student leaders with the necessary knowledge and tools to serve as allies to the LGBTQ community on campus.

DEI also offers a variety of resources and training including Higher Level, which is a training series designed to empower participants to take ownership of the role each of them plays in promoting an inclusive campus culture.

In addition to the WVU Alert system, emergency messages are posted to the @WVUalert Twitter and WVU Safety and Wellness Facebook page. Students and employees are encouraged to follow these social media accounts, as well as the @WVUsafety Twitter, for updates about incidents.

Health and Well-being

Housed at the Health Sciences Center, the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness coordinates efforts between all wellbeing initiatives at the University, including an inventory of emotional, physical, community, financial, social and purpose-driven resources.

WVU Student Health Services is offered through WVU Medicine located in the Health and Education Building on the Evansdale campus. WellWVU provides wellness education to students, while BeWell offers behavioral wellness services specifically designed for HSC students. The WVU Faculty and Staff Assistance Program is a free service available to all employees and their dependents.

The Carruth Center hired a BIPOC Specialist last month, and BeWell has added another clinician to its staff. In addition, services include group and individual counseling as well as a Crisis Text Line that is available 24 hours, seven days a week.

A new partnership between WVU, Kroger Mid-Atlantic and Kraft Heinz has funded upgrades and an expansion of The Rack: Student Food Pantry. The Rack, now with locations at Morgan House on the Downtown campus and HSC, has served more than 14,000 WVU students since it launched in 2010. 

Leadership and Mentorship

Mentoring is a vital part of creating connections and opportunities on campus. The PAL Mentor Program, undergraduate research mentoring and Faculty Mentoring Partnership at HSC are a few examples; more are being developed.

M-Power offers opportunities for students of color through an ongoing partnership between DEI, Athletics, RISE-WVU, the LGBTQ+ Center and Student Engagement & Leadership. M-Power connects undergraduate students with one another – as well as to faculty, staff and graduate students of color – to existing mentorship and leadership development programs from across the University with specific attention to race, culture and identity. Led by a core group of facilitators, students take part in experiences that foster critical thinking and develop trust while providing students opportunities that affirm their own racial or cultural identity. 

Leadership development through the Social Action Clinic and Mountaineer Volunteer Program, Women’s Leadership Initiative and others work in tandem with mentoring across the WVU system to help students, faculty and staff grow and learn.

Community Partnerships and Programs

Beyond the borders of WVU’s campuses, students, faculty and staff frequent businesses and use services in nearby neighborhoods. The Center for Black Culture and Research has created a list of selected Morgantown services to help diverse students connect with their communities.

The WVU Extension Service has organized three committees to foster an environment that celebrates diversity, strives for equity and promotes belonging, now referred to as its Diversity, Equity and Belonging initiative. Focusing their efforts on Extension Culture and Community Engagement, 4-H Youth Development and professional development, the initial step is to examine current practices and policies and develop an action plan to embrace the complex identities of individuals to provide for inclusive communities. 

Over the past several months, the WVU Extension Service has developed, implemented and analyzed data on a professional development needs assessment of the organization, partnered with DEI in a series of statewide training sessions for faculty and staff, acquired certification for a faculty member to implement the Intercultural Development Inventory across the organization, and is developing a fall WV Youth Diversity and Belonging Summit to engage youth throughout the state.

The WVU Alumni Association also has been developing initiatives to heighten awareness of racial and social justice issues. In June 2020, the Alumni Association launched the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee within the board of directors. This committee implemented new bylaw changes to create a new ex-officio board seat for the WVU Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; formalized annual, mandatory DEI-centered training for the WVUAA Board of Directors; and provides official representation of the Black Alumni Association to serve on the board’s DEI committee.

The Work Continues

A new website, wvu.edu/inclusive-campus, will serve as a hub for diversity-related information and resources. The site, just a click away from the University’s main website at wvu.edu, is a work-in-progress and represents ongoing efforts.

As Poore said in her annual State of Diversity address, “The work around diversity, equity and inclusion has just as much to do about the small steps taken as it is about the huge victories and every bit of it should be respected as a part of the movement toward justice and equality. But we each have to do our part and commit to do more.”

Moving forward, the University will continually share updates on initiatives, programs and projects that support DEI efforts across the University system. WVU encourages students, faculty, staff and others to share in this endeavor by giving feedback and submitting suggestions about new programs, resources, announcements and events, or email inclusivecampus@mail.wvu.edu.

-WVU-

ak/03/24/21

CONTACT: April Kaull, Executive Director of Communications
University Relations
304-293-3990; akaull@mail.wvu.edu

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