Connecting for a cause
Bringing diversity and inclusion to VCU’s alumni
By Anthony Langley
“We wanted to create an opportunity to bring together our alumni groups and students,” says Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D., reflecting on Virginia Commonwealth University’s first Diversity and Inclusion Networking Reception, held in April as part of VCU Alumni’s Reunion Weekend.
Mitchell, special assistant for university strategic initiatives and collaborations, and other leaders at VCU discussed organizing an event for nearly three years. With the help of the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Mitchell put her ideas into motion, creating an event that engaged members of VCU’s three chartered diversity alumni organizations — African-American Alumni Council, Latino Alumni Council and Rainbow Rams — to foster an inclusive community that welcomes underrepresented groups in higher education.
“We will always support programs like this,” says AAAC President Rodney Harry (B.S.’90/H&S). “It strengthens diversity and promotes a sense of togetherness, which is critically important today.”
In the early planning stages of the reception, Larry Powell (B.S.’85/H&S), VCU Alumni’s assistant director of outreach and engagement, brought Sobeyda Rivera (B.I.S.’10/H&S; M.T.’10/E; Cert.’13/E), president of the Latino Alumni Council, into the conversation, encouraging LAC’s participation. Knowing that it would be a great way for LAC to interact with the other affinity groups, Rivera joined reps from AAAC and Rainbow Rams as part of the event planning committee.
“A lot of the time students will graduate not knowing we’re here,” Rivera says. “Events like this help to raise awareness and let recent graduates know that there is a network of people behind you, willing to help you out.”
To bridge the gap between students and alumni, Mitchell recruited Sasha Spruill, a senior majoring in political science and African-American studies, who helped schedule committee meetings, create agendas and collaborate with the departments involved with planning the event.
“[The reception] brought people who are committed to the university’s social climate together,” Spruill says. “Though this reception was primarily alumni-focused, I think students would like to have a similar event where we can have these inclusive conversations as well.”
With more than 100 diverse alumni, students and faculty in attendance, the Diversity and Inclusion Networking Reception kicked off with a meet and greet, followed by a presentation on VCU’s strategic plan for inclusive excellence.
“It gave us an opportunity to learn about the university’s initiatives and collaborate with other affinity groups,” says Michelle Jones (B.S.’87/H&S), a member of AAAC. “We can still maintain each group’s mission and identity, while at the same time ensuring a welcoming and inclusive environment.”
Attendees also watched the video “Diversity and Inclusion: VCU Making it real” and learned about the Inclusive Excellence Endowed Fund, which provides student scholarships and inclusive learning experiences and funds outreach and engagement activities. The night ended with a roundtable discussion about VCU’s plan for inclusive excellence.
“You could tell everyone was excited about what they university is doing,” Mitchell says. “By the end of the night, everyone was so engrossed in conversation, it felt like nobody wanted to leave.”
For Carol Schall, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’03/E), assistant professor in the VCU School of Education and president of Rainbow Rams, which represents LGBTQ alumni and allies, the reception was a great way to connect with potential members and to share the group’s excitement for what the university has planned for future inclusion efforts.
“It was very clear that this reception was about a long-term commitment that the university has to welcome diversity,” Schall says. “For VCU to not only recognize the LGBT community but to welcome us and to say that we are a part of [the university], we are VCU, that’s huge.”
To learn more about VCU’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment, visit the Division for Inclusive Excellence website.
Click here to see more photo’s from the Diversity and Inclusion Networking Reception.