Last week, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands joined a webcast with Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, and David Kwabena Wilson, president of Morgan State University, to discuss questions of diversity and its future with the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a virtual discussion sponsored by Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

The current climate has sparked concerns about how budget cuts are coming from federal, state, and local sources. The college presidents shared information on how institutions are planning to cope with the financial crisis and how they can maintain and preserve all the existing diversity and inclusion efforts.

In continuing the conversation, President Sands joined Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity, for a virtual town hall on Wednesday on diversity, equity, and inclusion at the national level in today's climate, during a special episode of a new online InclusiveVT Conversation Series called “Making the Chair Fit.”

The 45-minute conversation started when Pratt-Clarke asked Sands what his favorite chair was.

“I love the chair metaphor,” Sands replied. “But to be perfectly honest with you, my favorite chair is no chair, because I like to keep moving. But if I had to pick one, I would pick one that swivels. And in the sense of a metaphor, I like to see all challenges and problems from multiple perspectives.”

Sands continued by sharing how he has been making the chair fit for Virginia Tech during this time of transition. In recalling last week’s dialogue with Diverse Issues in Higher Education, he pointed out how vital it is to ensure that everyone who joins the Virginia Tech community can feel comfortable picking their own chair based on their own experiences. It is important to have diversity, inclusion, equity, and access integrated into a strategic plan.

The following are a few takeaways from the conversation. Watch the full video below.

  • The university acknowledged the needs of its students. The rapid shift to online learning in the spring semester left many students with unanswered questions and some anxiety. One issue to address was the “digital divide.” Many students didn’t have broadband or high-speed connections. The administration worked diligently to get them back on track to connect virtually to engage them.
  • The recent loss of Ahmaud Arbery and the suffering his family is experiencing is tragic. Sands and Pratt-Clarke shared the commitment to having a safe and inclusive community and acknowledged there is work to be done. More broadly, it is a painful demonstration of the cultural and systemic barriers that continue to hinder the advancement of diversity and inclusion. The role of education is even more important in addressing issues of diversity and difference. Facilitating friendships across differences and understanding the historical realities of race and identity in the United States for African Americans and Latinx, Native American, and Asian communities, as well as different religious communities, remains critical.
  • Graduation is Friday. Pratt-Clarke wrote a post called, Hokies, Carry your Superpowers about the intangible gifts that Virginia Tech cultivates in students. Sands agreed there are specific “Superpowers” with Hokies. The university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), serves as a differentiator that recognizes the integral connection with Virginia Tech's land-grant responsibility of access and opportunity and its mission of service to humanity. Community is vitally important to Virginia Tech, especially as it relates to graduation. While coming together physically to celebrate is not possible this year, Sands and Pratt-Clarke shared pride in what students have accomplished and their resilience in this current climate.

About “Making the Chair Fit”

The series is about how we are making our chair fit in this season and how we are helping others. It is about the Ut Prosim difference and how there has never been a more critical time for service than now.

This, and future, conversations will be available on the InclusiveVT website via our YouTube Channel.

We would also like you to share with us how you’re “Making the Chair Fit” for you. Share your stories, your thoughts, and your ideas via any of our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) by using the hashtag #VTIsMakingTheChairFit. Please also feel free to email us at InclusiveVT@vt.edu.