Six weeks after joining Virginia Tech as vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for inclusion and diversity, meeting more than 400 people from undergraduates to alumni, and reviewing 15 years of university inclusion and diversity efforts, Menah Pratt-Clarke took a breath and shared her findings with the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.
“What I’ve learned is that there are some really powerful foundational values that guide the work of diversity and inclusion,” Pratt-Clarke said. “We have the opportunity to define InclusiveVT in a way that connects it to the motto and to the principles of community.”
She has said linking InclusiveVT, the university’s inclusion and diversity effort, to Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is one of her first priorities as she “fundamentally believes that the two concepts are closely integrated.”
To that end, she told the board she recently held a workshop with about 60 people from across the university to help define InclusiveVT and said she was excited by the engagement and participation of those in attendance.
But Pratt-Clarke noted the university still faces challenges as it works toward being a more inclusive and diverse community. Those challenges, which include decentralized diversity efforts; the lack of representational diversity among students, faculty, and staff; the role of diversity in the curriculum; and the climate on campus, all offer opportunities for transformation. Pratt-Clarke said the concept of sustainable transformation, which focuses on efforts that are both sustainable and transformation, a process of ongoing change, guides her approach to inclusion and diversity work.
Pratt-Clarke said her strategic focus includes four key areas: the “K to 20 pipeline” and working with local communities to create a pipeline for students to Virginia Tech; recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students; exploring opportunities around diversity and inclusion in the curriculum and orientation structures; and supporting the individuals and groups engaged in InclusiveVT work at the university. She said she plans to work with colleges, units, and programs to clearly define roles and responsibilities, expectations, and the nature of collaboration regarding inclusion and diversity efforts.
She has already initiated changes to accelerate InclusiveVT efforts. Pratt-Clarke told the board incoming freshmen and graduate students will take an online Diversity 101 video module, a project on which she has collaborated with the Division of Student Affairs and the Graduate School.
She has begun conversations about how to meaningfully integrate diversity into the Pathways curriculum model. She shared, “I’m excited that Intersectional Diversity and Inclusion is a destination area. On my first day of work, the president, the provost, and I had a conversation about this.”
Noting the university’s landmarks and their ties to the evolutionary history of the community, she said, “Collectively they all reflect a unique and complicated path involving Native Americans, white plantation owners, and African Americans. I think there is an important opportunity and also responsibility to integrate issues of diversity into the curriculum.”
Another of her goals is to raise awareness of the strengths of Virginia Tech as a public land-grant university with a beautiful campus set amid a community of friendly, kind people with the aim of building more diverse student, staff, and faculty populations.
“I think we have to figure out how to tell this story to underrepresented groups. Many universities across the country and even in Virginia are in small towns like Blacksburg,” she said. “We just have to figure out how to market Virginia Tech to the communities and populations that we want to bring here.”
Pratt-Clarke’s assessment echoed President Tim Sands’ remarks about Virginia Tech’s goals as a global land grant institution. “We have a pool of talent in Virginia that is not accessing us,” Sands said. Additionally he told the board the university must develop into a community that can reach out and engage the world.
Pratt-Clarke concluded: “I believe we are poised for change. There’s a strong senior leadership commitment, large scale engagement, enthusiasm, and excitement, and our areas of strength and opportunities provide a foundation for dealing with our challenges.”
Board member Wayne Robinson expressed support for the inclusion and diversity efforts Pratt-Clarke outlined. “I want to assure you that the university is going to do everything in its power to get behind this effort.” His word were seconded by Rector Deborah Petrine, who said the board is excited to have Pratt-Clarke guiding InclusiveVT.