Lessons Learned on the 6th Year Anniversary at Virginia Tech

1. Ut Prosim (that I may serve)

A remarkable motto and guide for an institution.  It helps the institution to rise above smaller petty differences to reach for a higher goal of service to humanity.  Despite some pushback and opposition, Virginia Tech accepted the linking of InclusiveVT to Ut Prosim. This connection facilitated an important intersection with the work of inclusion, diversity, and equity and the institution’s motto. InclusiveVT is the institutional and individual commitment to Ut Prosim (that I may serve) in the spirit of community, diversity, and excellence. This is an important foundation for the work here.

2. Presidential Leadership

President Sands has been a powerful partner.  A very calm, interesting, thoughtful, reflective, and approachable leader. He has enabled me to develop a vision and has helped to support the vision and its implementation.  He has supported many fragile initiatives that burgeoned into transformational efforts. I have been blessed to have such a supportive leader at the presidential level and from the board of visitors. I know many colleagues are being oppressed under oppressive conditions by their presidents and others as they try to help their institutions overcome legacies of racism. This is such difficult work and nearly impossible without strong support from leadership teams across the institution. I am grateful for the environment and support for this work here.

3. Teams

It is difficult to build a strong and cohesive team.  I started with two amazing White women. One still stands next to me and the other moved on. And others have come and gone, and sometimes have come back.  The team, now, of almost 40, including undergraduate and graduate students, is remarkably diverse, with Black, Latinx, Native, Asian, and White people working together, and with representation from the LGBTQ communities.  I’ve seen the closeness of the community and cultural center directors and the support they provide one another.  I’ve seen the amazing work a very small team in SOAR can do in collaboration with Enrollment Management to host the Black College Institute for 4 years.  I’ve also witnessed team breakdown, departures, and unhappiness among teams, and unhappiness with me.  Leading teams requires a resilient and adaptable spirit.  People will come and go, but the work remains.

4. Infrastructure

People, technology, data, money, office space.  It is essential to have resources to be effective.  I’ve waged battles over money, office space, reporting lines, and access to data. Resources are limited and one has to understand how to get access to them.  I was fortunate to be adopted by a very astute and wise budget officer who was able to help me understand how to access resources. I was fortunate to get access to data and to have amazing data specialists and technicians. Data is power if one can access it to influence decisions.

5. Education

We have a really strong diversity education team.  I have learned that facilitation matters.  Presentation and delivery of content matters.  Creation of content matters.  Creating and delivering meaningful diversity education programs is very challenging.  It takes a special demeanor and personality to engage difficult conversations with willing and unwilling attitudes.

6. Allies, Advocates, and Adversaries

Not everyone is an ally and advocate all the time.  These are fluid identities.  Sometimes allies become adversaries.  It is important to understand and accept when this happens. We cannot also judge a book by its cover.  Some of the most unlikely and unseemly characters at Virginia Tech have become powerful allies; and some assumed allies and advocates were not. And adversaries teach us important lessons, too.

7.  The Fun of Creating and Building

I have been able to have fun in the work of creating and building change at Virginia Tech.  I have been able to laugh and have a good time, more often than I would have imagined.  And there are new programs at Virginia Tech that were not here when I came — more community and cultural centers; diversity deans in every college; required diversity education courses; and SOAR (Student Opportunities and Achievement Resources) Office and the Black College Institute. It’s fun to plant seeds, water, hope for sunshine, and watch the fruits of ones labor grow, tending and nursing them along.

8.  Aloneness

There are often many moments of aloneness. Small town.  Same people.  A friend told me that isolated and rural places allow you space to pour out what is inside. I have been able to capitalize on the aloneness to write and reflect, and find creativity.  Menah’s Matinee: Music and Musings emerged from space and time to create.

9.  Outsider Status

I am an outsider.  I am not from here. I am not from Virginia. I am not from Appalachia.  I am not White or male, the founding identities of Virginia Tech.  I sometimes acutely feel my outsider status as a Black woman. Nuff said.

10.  What’s Next?

What’s next is the next moment.  This semester’s work: The Sesquicentennial Celebration – 1872 Forward; the 10th anniversary of the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy National Conference; book chapters that I should not have agreed to write, but did so in the spirit of Ut Prosim; and more drinks and lunches with colleagues at Virginia Tech.  I am deeply grateful to be a Hokie. I am blessed to wake up every day and engage in work where my profession aligns with my passion and there are really wonderful dedicated colleagues who are also committed to a more just and inclusive world. Thank you, Virginia Tech.