Healing and action

July 20, 2016

It is difficult to find the words to describe the sadness, fear and confusion of this tumultuous time. The senseless shootings, loss of life and abuse of individual freedoms in America and around the world are painful for all of us at VCU as they play out in nightmarish video, day-in and day-out.

We cannot give in to despair, however, but must offer one another support and work together for healing and action. We have many assets — the voices of the members of our community, our commitment and our many talents as a university community to bring to the ongoing work to end injustice wherever and whenever we find it.

Without unity, we will continue in darkness, but together we are immensely powerful.

This environment can have a far reaching impact on the personal lives of anyone observing the events online or in the media. For those in the university community who feel the need for assistance, please contact one of several resources listed below and described in detail on the Provost’s website.

Update on Diversity and Inclusion

March 14, 2016

Campus Pride Update Vol. 1

An email to the university community from Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D., vice president for inclusive excellence:

I write to update you on recent progress we have made in our commitment to a more diverse and inclusive environment at Virginia Commonwealth University.

As President Rao has often said, VCU faculty, staff, students and graduates must be prepared to lead in a world that is more interconnected and diverse than ever. That means we must ensure that the educational experience at VCU prepares them to do exactly that.

We have some successes on which to build. For example, our student body is the most diverse of any university in Virginia. However, we are keenly aware that a diverse student body does not ensure the existence of a welcoming, inclusive and dynamic learning community. So we have progress still to make.

That is why a commitment to active, intentional and ongoing engagement with diversity in our people, curricular and co-curricular activities, and communities is key to enhancing VCU’s diversity efforts.  

Simply put, we are redoubling every effort to ensure greater access, diversity, outreach, experiential learning, equity and inclusion.  

Among them, we are pursuing accountability-driven diversity and inclusion goals across the university, an initiative being led by the Division for Inclusive Excellence and supported by the Council of Inclusive Excellence and Equity and the newly created President’s Action Group on Diversity and Inclusion. 

Since the new year, we have also taken several steps to move our commitments to diversity and inclusion from words to actions. Some examples follow:

Education and Training Initiatives

  • More than 100 members of our leadership team have completed the first part of cultural competency training, led by an external consultant who is recognized as a national leader in this field. Part two of this training will be conducted later this spring.
  • Several members of our team have also completed training to guard against unconscious bias in the hiring process, whether based on race, religion, gender, nationality or any other factor.
  • Members of our team are also beginning comprehensive Title IX training.
  • Several members of our university community have attended a series of Diversity Education and Retention Initiatives workshops focused on topics such as micro-aggression, conflict resolution and cultural competency.
  • More than 600 VCU and VCU Health staff participated in the VCU Staff Senate’s 2016 Staff Professional Development Conference focused on diversity and inclusion. Moving forward, the Staff Senate’s newsletter will feature an article on diversity and inclusion topics each month. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
  • In May, the fourth annual Institute on Inclusive Teaching will feature author and expert Dr. Mathew Ouellett, associate provost and director of Teaching and Learning at Wayne State University, as facilitator-in-residence. Dr. Zewelanji Serpell will present her research on stereotype threat and solo status. And the Rev. Ben Campbell, an author and historian, will lead the retreat. Several pre-institute events have also been planned, including one led by Dr. Adrienne Dessel, the co-associate director of The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan’s Institute on Inclusive Teaching. More information is available here.

Institutional Changes

  • We updated university policies and procedures related to equal opportunity, gender discrimination, affirmative action and pay transparency.
  • We began a process that will make reporting incidents of bias easier. This project, part of LGBTQ-specific Campus Pride Index, involves divisions across VCU, including Assurance Services, Equity and Access, Inclusive Excellence, Human Resources, Student Affairs and University Police. We also launched a Bias Response Team as part of this project. 

Recruitment, Retention and Success

  • Our current Recruitment Inclusive Champions cohort will graduate in May, and we are beginning to recruit for next year’s cohort.
  • VCU has just joined the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, a national organization focused on serving the professional development needs of women and underrepresented faculty.


  • A link on the university’s homepage now collects and disseminates information related to our diversity and inclusion efforts, bringing once-disparate information into one place. This website includes a calendar of events, recent news and resources to help advance our efforts in these areas.
  • We created a publication called Campus Pride Update Vol. 1 that highlight our LGBTQQIA efforts. 
  • We have reached out to students, faculty, staff, senior leaders, alumni and the external community for several months using the president’s blog, targeted communication to and by academic leaders; university social media; meetings of the President’s advisory group; and public student forums and conversations.

Institutional Commitment, Accountability and Engagement

  • Dr. Alma Clayton-Pedersen, a diversity consultant, met with the President’s Cabinet and discussed ways to link grassroots efforts in diversity and inclusion to the university’s overall commitment.
  • The Council for Inclusive Excellence and Equity began drafting the 2016-2021 Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan and University-wide Diversity and Inclusion Scorecard, to be implemented in Fall 2016. These will focus on (and include accountability for):
    • Institutional Commitment
    • Climate and Intergroup Relations
    • Recruitment, Retention and Success 
    • Education and Scholarship
    • Assessment\
  • In the coming weeks, we will administer a campus climate survey for faculty and staff and, separately, for students. Information gained from these surveys will guide our future planning related to diversity and inclusion and other issues. Information sessions will be held to discuss the survey instruments and gather campus input.
  • We are hosting Diversity and Inclusion Cafés in April to seek input on the 2016-2021 Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan and the University Diversity and Inclusion Scorecard. This is the Five in Five Campaign to promote the new five themes of the plan to be measured over five years.  

Celebrations and Recognitions

  • We have scheduled the annual 2016 Annual PACME Celebration for April 4. The university-wide celebration recognizes the contributions of heroes who are enhancing inclusive excellence and advancing VCU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Planning is underway for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Gay Student Alliance at VCU, to be celebrated as one of several events during LGBTQ History Month in October.
  • The Division for Inclusive Excellence, in strategic partnership with Development and Alumni Relations, will also sponsor the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Networking Reception on April 15, to engage members of VCU’s three chartered diversity alumni organizations: the African-American Alumni Council, the Latino Alumni Council and Rainbow Rams.
  • We are also planning the second annual Greater Richmond Society of Human Resource Management and VCU Community Diversity and Inclusion Symposium, scheduled for July 13-14 and featuring speakers such as Tony Byers, the director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Starbucks; Lenore Pearlstein, owner and publisher of Insight into Diversity magazine; and Dr. Steve Robbins, innovator of the concept of “unintentional intolerance.”

As the year continues, and as we have more to report, President Rao and I will continue to update the community through email and social media channels.  

The VCU president's update on actions around diversity and inclusion

December 11, 2015

Read President Michael Rao's update to the university on actions around diversity and inclusion.

VCU pharmacy school raises the bar in inclusive excellence

April 26, 2016

By Trevon Straughter, intern
University Public Affairs


Hanging front and center in the lobby of the School of Pharmacy’s Smith Building at Virginia Commonwealth University is a poster. It contains a forthright statement signed by the school’s constituents:

“We, the students, faculty and staff of the School of Pharmacy, reaffirm our commitment to VCU values of diversity and a climate of inclusion, to addressing disparities where they exist, and to promoting an environment of trust.”

The statement builds upon one of the core values of the pharmacy school, and the poster serves as a daily reminder that the school will continue its efforts to promote inclusive excellence and diversity within the school and throughout the profession.

Dean Joseph T. DiPiro and a team of Pharm.D. students brainstormed the idea to display the poster and encouraged students and employees to sign it.

“[The poster] is a powerful symbol,” said DiPiro. “It’s visible and is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment. Symbols are important, and we need more substantive actions behind them.”

Arzo Hamidi, a member of the MCV Campus Graduate Student Programming Board, is one of the student leaders who helped to craft the idea. “It means a lot to many of us students knowing that we have such a strong support system with our faculty and staff.”

The school, established in 1898, has long been a pioneer and a leader in the pharmacy community. The school’s ability to serve the broader community while recognizing the individual health needs of each subgroup has become increasingly important over the past few years.

“We must have this kind of thinking that’s definitive and embedded within the curriculum and training throughout our programs.” DiPiro noted.  “Because pharmacists work so closely with all groups of people, it’s essential for their environment to represent the landscape in which they will be working.”

One way the school has dedicated itself to providing students opportunities to serve underprivileged and underrepresented populations is by working with community organizations such as The Daily Planet, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, Richmond Health and Wellness Program and Richmond Area Compassionate Care Pharmacy.

Providing instructors who share in the role of diversity and inclusive teaching and learning practices is as important as providing access to the community via service learning and real patient experience.

“We are working to increase the diversity of our staff and faculty by enriching our recruitment skills,” DiPiro said. “Our role as faculty and staff is critical in our students’ development, and we need a team that is representative.”

DiPiro also noted diversity-related issues pharmacists face in the general community and challenged students to recognize the power they have to effect change as thought-leaders and influencers. To that end, the dean’s office, in conjunction with the VCU chapter of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, recently organized an open discussion forum titled “Voices: Minorities in Health Career Professions.”

The forum featured six African-American panelists (four of whom are School of Pharmacy alumni) discussing their views on diversity, inclusion and how they have succeeded when faced with adversity.

Nigerian-American panelist and VCU Health pharmacist Toyin Oyefuga gave this advice: “Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back. Your skin color and your differences are always going to be an issue ... I’m Nigerian and I have an accent; I thought they will never want me … face your fears!”

Leonard Edloe, a retired pharmacist who now serves as vice president of the American Pharmacists Association Foundation’s board of directors, said,  “Look around and see who’s around you. If everyone looks the same, you have a problem. If you don’t understand people’s culture, or their perspective,” he continued, “you have a problem.”

More than 50 students attended the event. Hamidi felt it was a good reminder about her role as a pharmacist.

“Each panelist's achievements serve as motivation to me, as a woman, as a minority, as an immigrant, and most importantly, as a future health care provider,” she said. “I was reminded that at the end of the day, I am serving patients and should not let any biases, any discrimination or other adversities come in the way of me doing my job wholeheartedly.”

To inform and empower students and maintain a focus on inclusive excellence, more open discussions are in the planning stages. The second offering in the “Voices” series brought in three pharmacy students, an alumna and a faculty member, as well as a School of Medicine faculty member, to discuss their experiences as part of the Muslim community.

“My religion shapes how I deal with my patients every day,” noted alumna panelist Uzma Khan, who completed her Pharm.D. degree last year. Imad Damaj, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, encouraged faculty to get to know all their international students on a personal level. “Be intentional about it,” he said.

Having a personal commitment to diversity and inclusion means having a commitment to listening and then understanding.” DiPiro said. “To be inclusively excellent, we have to listen, learn and understand; we have to find our blind spots, the things that influence our behavior from the background, address those inherent biases and look for new opportunities to heal and communicate.”


About VCU School of Pharmacy

VCU School of Pharmacy has been a pioneer in pharmacy care and education since 1898. The school is at the scientific forefront in pharmacy, pharmaceutics and medicinal chemistry education and research. The school’s location within the VCU Medical Center offers students and faculty tremendous opportunities in interprofessional collaboration. The school has committed to developing progressive models of pharmacy practice while maintaining the foundational pharmaceutical sciences. For more information, visit

Fourth Annual Institute on Inclusive Teaching

May 23, 2016

The fourth annual Institute on Inclusive Teaching, May 23-27, 2016, will offer a range of opportunities, strategies, and techniques for addressing the inclusiveness of courses, curricula, programs, and services.  The IIT will feature author and expert Dr. Mathew Ouellett, associate provost and director of Teaching and Learning at Wayne State University, as facilitator-in-residence. Dr. Zewelanji Serpell will present her research on stereotype threat and solo status, and Reverend Ben Campbell, author and historian, will lead the retreat.

Several pre-institute events have also been planned, including one led by Dr. Adrienne Dessel, co-associate director of The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan’s Institute on Inclusive Teaching. More information is available here.

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