Graduate Student Diversity Programs: Year-end Highlights

By Melissa Maki
Students at the Diversity Banquet

Graduate Student Diversity Banquet attendees from left to right: Najah Farley, Law; Z'etoile Imma, English; Todne' Thomas, Anthropology; Duron Lee, Biomedical Engineering
Photo by Sid Phillips

Cheryl Burgan Evans joined the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies as Director of Graduate Student Diversity Programs in June 2006.  Evans’ newly created position is based on a recommendation made by the President’s Commission on Diversity and Equity.  Since her arrival, Evans has been working diligently to enhance graduate student diversity at the University of Virginia.

“Diversity at the University of Virginia means creating a culture where people from unique backgrounds can seamlessly come together and focus their multifaceted talents to create a lasting legacy of excellence,” says Evans.  “Our office was designed to help bring this culture into place by being a resource for all graduate students, faculty, and staff that are able to envision a place of discovery and openness.”

Evans has spent much of the past year cultivating key external relationships in order to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups at U.Va.  She has traveled extensively to participate in recruiting forums and with the Office of the Vice President and Provost co-facilitated visits from two historically black universities, Hampton University and Virginia State University.

Graduate Student Diversity Programs also initiated the Summer Language Institute Virginia Historically Black Colleges and Universities (SLI-HBCU) Fellowship this year.  U.Va.’s SLI offers intensive, nine-week courses in a variety of languages.  The new fellowship program, also supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement, will provide funding for a total of ten undergraduates—two from each of the Commonwealth’s five HBCUs—to attend the SLI.  The goal of the program is to increase the number of underrepresented students participating in SLI, and ultimately to attract them to U.Va. for graduate study.

Evans has also worked with various national organizations to raise the profile of U.Va. as a welcoming and intellectually rigorous environment for prospective graduate students from underrepresented populations.  The University recently joined the Leadership Alliance whose mission is “to develop underrepresented students into outstanding leaders and role models in academia, business and the public sector.”  The Alliance has expanded to include 33 member institutions, now both public and private.  Undergraduates from three Leadership Alliance institutions—Howard University, Princeton University, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County—will participate in summer research programs at the University.  U.Va. is also a new member of the National Name Exchange (NNE), a consortium of 30 universities that collect and exchange the names of its most talented undergraduates who intend to pursue a graduate degree.

While much effort has gone into diversifying the graduate student body, Evans has also organized events at U.Va. aimed at creating a culture of support for underrepresented students and employees.  In January she hosted the inaugural Graduate Student Diversity Retreat, a day-long event which focused on achieving success in graduate school.  In April, 150 students, staff, and faculty attended a Graduate Student Diversity Banquet at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel.  The banquet honored graduating students and those serving on the Graduate Diversity Advisory Committee.

“We have accomplished many great things in a rather short period of time due to the hard work of many diversity advocates but our work is far from over,” asserts Evans. “In the coming years we will seek to further our message of individual respect and acceptance.  It is the recognition and appreciation of our differences that will lead us to unparalleled heights of success.”