VCU Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion

November 18, 2015

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., held an hour-long Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion on November 18, 2015, following a student rally held in support of black students at the University of Missouri to protest discrimination.

The forum allowed students, faculty, staff and administrators to share their concerns about diversity and inclusion at VCU, including a lack of black faculty, the need for cultural competency training, hiring an ombudsperson to respond to student concerns, and more financial support for cultural student organizations.

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Students help clean up a long-neglected African-American cemetery — and uncover the past

April 13, 2016

At the overgrown, long-neglected East End Cemetery, the Richmond burial site of untold thousands of African-Americans dating back to 1880,Virginia Commonwealth University professor Susan Bodnar-Deren, Ph.D., and her students were picking up trash and clearing brush and ivy from a grave plot on a recent Friday when Bodnar-Deren spotted something buried amid the mud and debris.

“Hey, I just found a headstone, guys,” called out Bodnar-Deren, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Josselinne Robles, a senior international studies major, brought over a jug of water to wash away the grime, revealing a small headstone marking the plot as the final resting place of Rebecca Jones, who died in May 1931.

The discovery of Jones’ lost headstone is just one of many that have been part of the East End Cemetery Clean Up Project. Volunteers, including students at VCU, the University of Richmond and Virginia State University, have worked to clear the historic cemetery of brush, ivy and years of accumulated illegally dumped trash.

“Genealogy got me into this, and visiting cemeteries,” said John Shuck, volunteer coordinator of the project. “There’s a website called Find a Grave, and I started looking for cemeteries in Richmond to photograph and I came across [East End]. I saw what it looked like, and figured I’d clear a plot or two. Now, almost eight years later, I’m still at it. Just trying to get this place in order, from chaos.”

This semester, VCU students in Bodnar-Deren’s Sociology of Aging and the Life Course service-learning class are cleaning up the cemetery as a way to serve the community, but also to gather cemetery demography data recorded on the headstones.

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VCU symposiums to explore race and policing, terrorism and radicalization

March 16, 2016

The Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs will host symposiums this semester that explore the topics of race and policing in communities, and terrorism and radicalization in an open society.

The first symposium, “Race and Policing in Communities,” will be held on Thursday, March 24, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Forum Room of the University Student Commons.

The second symposium, “Terrorism and Radicalization in Open Society,” will take place on Thursday, April 14, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the University Student Commons Theater.

“Each event will be an open, informative and constructive conversation with some speakers talking from their perspective as researchers, observers and expert analysts and others speaking from the perspective of their experience,” said Henry Brownstein, Ph.D., the center’s director and the Wilder School’s associate dean for research.

An audience question-and-answer session will follow each panel.

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Black Lives Matter co-founder to speak at VCU

March 16, 2016

Opal Tometi, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, will speak at Virginia Commonwealth University on March 31.

Tometi, an activist who has worked at the intersection of racial justice and immigrant rights for more than a decade, will speak at 7 p.m. at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, 1200 W. Broad St. in Richmond.

Tometi, along with Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors, created the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, prompting activism nationwide and introducing the banner under which this generation’s civil rights movement marches.

Tometi’s talk, “#BlackLivesMatter: Hashtag in Action,” will be free and open to the public.

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On occasion of 35th anniversary, VCU Dance emphasizes creating 21st-century 'global artists’

March 4, 2016

With the start of the spring 2016 semester, the curtain rose on the 35th year of the Department of Dance and Choreography in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. In recognition of this landmark, E. Gaynell Sherrod, Ed.D., chair of the department, and Lea Marshall, associate chair, reflected on the department’s past and focused on its future, which is dedicated to embracing the university’s core values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

While over the years the department has grown — from 25 students enrolled in 1981 to about 100 in 2015 — Sherrod has noticed that as the number of students increased, the demographic makeup of those students shifted as well. Today more than 50 percent of dance students identify as a person of color.

“With that said, there are several implications we need to address,” Sherrod said. “How do we reflect, in a cultural sense, what those voices are and help them get the information they need in order to make their own career happen? How do we also make sure that we have the faculty at the table that will bring that information to the forefront in terms of curriculum?

“Our curriculum needs to shift a little bit as well, not only to address the students of color, but all students, because we want to make 21st-century artists. And 21st-century artists are really global artists.” One way to do this is creating more study abroad opportunities. “If we’re talking about global then we need to get them out in the world,” Sherrod said. Faculty members are already cultivating relationships in different parts of the world and, as a result, about a dozen students are studying in Paris this semester.

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