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4 years in a row: W&M receives Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award

University publishes annual diversity and inclusion report

INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine has once again selected William & Mary to receive one of its Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) awards.

A logo that shows a mortarboard cap and says Insight into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award Top Colleges for DiversityThis is the fourth consecutive year that W&M has received the award, which recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. Some of the initiatives that helped W&M receive this year’s award are included in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion’s annual report, which was published online today.

“We are extremely honored to receive the 2021 HEED Award recognition for the fourth consecutive year,” said Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover. “In the aftermath of a difficult year where we all experienced a racial awakening and the exposure of many inequities revealed by the pandemics, our community came together as we had to pivot, adapt and accelerate the work of inclusion and belonging.

“This year’s award is even more special because it symbolizes how we came together to engage in the work in an uncertain and evolving climate while maintaining a spirit of perseverance and resilience. It is my hope that our faculty, staff and students would view this as the catalyst for continuing our efforts with even more focus on the university’s ongoing initiatives to foster and maintain an inclusive learning and work environment that is aligned with our mission and core values. Finally, the HEED award also provides benchmarks for assessing our progress and keeps us striving to reach higher goals.”

As a HEED Award recipient, W&M will be recognized in the November 2021 issue of INSIGHT into Diversity along with 100 other recipients from around the country. The magazine is the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education.

“The HEED Award process consists of a comprehensive and rigorous application that includes questions relating to the recruitment and retention of students and employees — and best practices for both — continued leadership support for diversity, and other aspects of campus diversity and inclusion,” said Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, in a press release.

“We take a detailed approach to reviewing each application in deciding who will be named a HEED Award recipient. Our standards are high, and we look for institutions where diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus.”

HEED Award

In the application for this year’s award, W&M highlighted a variety of its recent diversity, equality and inclusion efforts, from research to recruiting. 

Among student-focused initiatives for 2021 was the launch of the Posse Foundation partnership, which provides full scholarships to diverse cohorts of students, many of whom may be the first in their families to attend college. The first cohort of Posse scholars started at W&M this fall. Earlier in the year, Student Affairs administered the Viewfinder Campus Climate Survey, which – among other topics – asked students about freedom of expression on campus and diversity of thought.

Also this year, the university has continued to reexamine its history and make it known more widely. W&M issued a land acknowledgement statement, which formally acknowledges the original Indigenous inhabitants of the state-owned land on which the Williamsburg campus resides. W&M partnered with their present-day descendants to create appropriate language for the statement, which is now being read at major university events including the 2021 Opening Convocation ceremony.

W&M has also continued its work to learn more about the people enslaved by the university and to commemorate them. In February, W&M and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation announced a partnership regarding the future use of the Bray School building, known in modern times as the Bray-Digges House, likely the oldest extant building in the U.S. dedicated to the education of Black children. The agreement calls for relocation of the structure to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, where it would become the 89th original structure restored by the foundation. The partnership also establishes the Williamsburg Bray School Initiative, a joint venture of the two institutions to use the Bray School as a focal point for research, scholarship and dialogue regarding the interconnected, often troubled, legacy of race, religion and education in Williamsburg and in America.

A few months later, W&M started construction on Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, which will honor the people who were enslaved by the university and will serve as a gathering place for today’s campus community and as well as a remained entrance to the Historic Campus. During the same May 2021 event, a dedication was held for the Legacy Tribute Garden, created in honor of the first three African-American undergraduate students to live in residence at W&M. The following month, the university hosted its first Juneteenth celebration, in partnership with the City of Williamsburg, YJCW Chapter on NAACP, First Baptist Church and Colonial Williamsburg. While the event was held virtually this year due to COVID-19, the celebration is expected to be held annually, with next year’s taking place on the site of the memorial.

Additionally this year, W&M kicked off its Asian Centennial, which both commemorates the admission of the university’s first Asian student and celebrates the contribution of all students of Asian, Pacific Islander and Middle Eastern descent. The centennial will continue into 2022 and will include special events and research projects.

At the administrative level, W&M launched an organizational assessment to identify hidden and apparent barriers to creating a fully inclusive university and campus culture. Those results are expected to inform the university’s strategic planning process as it progresses. 

Annual report

The Office of Diversity & Inclusion’s annual report includes a number of updates regarding the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts throughout the last year. During that time, the university focused on recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students; campus climate; curricular enhancements; and innovative approaches to community engagement and reconciliation efforts, according to the report. The office also implemented a whole-university approach to its work, collaborating with “forward-thinking individuals and units across campus.”

“Over the course of a tumultuous year in which we saw our community and our nation challenged by multiple pandemics, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion has worked tirelessly with colleagues across the university to center our core values and provide faculty, staff and students with brave and open spaces to navigate the uncertainties that developed as our ‘normal’ ways of doing our work was totally upended,” the report’s executive summary says. “However, as a community we came together and stood on our principles to find innovative ways to advance our work while we were separated due to remote work.”

In addition to listing some of the initiatives that were also mentioned in the HEED application, the report highlights the creation of the university’s first Inclusive Excellence Diversity Strategic Plan for 2020-2023. Created in coordination with the Commonwealth of Virginia’s One Virginia Plan and House Bill 1993, the plan was officially adopted in spring 2021 and includes an Inclusive Excellence framework developed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities to track and evaluate diversity, equity and inclusion work while also looking for opportunities for improvement. As part of the plan, the university will create an annual report about its progress towards established goals and will share it with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

“Accepting the Inclusive Excellence model reflects the understanding that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lead to organizational excellence and are to be invited and integrated into the very core of the business enterprise and are not isolated initiatives,” the report says. “This framework moves DEI efforts from the margins as a moral imperative to an interwoven space where what is measured, gets done. It also creates a shared narrative across the university from academics through procurement.”

Some of the other Office of Diversity & Inclusion outcomes listed in the report include creating a Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Committee, which composed the Inclusive Excellence plan; hosting a fall Courageous Conversations series for faculty and staff that focused on topics related to W&M’s value of belonging; recognizing 35 “Diversity Champions” in the university community; hosting the IGNITE Future Faculty Development Program; and offering 11 professional development workshops and other events including two diversity and inclusion symposia.

“We are stronger together; a university community thrives because of its people and their varied experiences,” the executive summary says. “The broad dimensions of diversity may define us as individuals, but our shared values define us as a community of strength and collective power.

“As we build institutional capacity to accelerate and enhance diversity efforts we must center our mission, vision and values to challenge systemic and structural barriers that prohibit our ability to be a stronger and inclusive W&M where all members of our community feel a sense of belonging and flourish.”