University’s Diversity Continues To Evolve And Grow
As Shenandoah University has progressed over time since its founding in 1875, so has the university’s commitment to making Shenandoah a place where people of diverse backgrounds and experiences are both understood and celebrated, and where a variety of opinions are respected.
The university’s Shenandoah 2025 strategic plan makes diversity a priority, with elements of it geared toward individual sections of the university community – students, dedicated staff (including a faculty representative for diversity, currently Assistant Professor Division of Athletic Training Michele Pye, Ph.D.), academics, clubs, and more – as well the university community as a whole.
Shenandoah has long sought and respected the importance of diversity. In the 1950s, students came from Thailand, Cuba, and South Korea, and while Black students began attending in the 1960s, Shenandoah student organizations hosted an integrated spiritual event in the late 1930s, according to preliminary research by a Shenandoah faculty member. However, the past 25 years or so have seen the greatest growth in the university’s diversity initiatives. In 1994, Shenandoah began its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Service of Remembrance. The service then expanded into a day of service to the community. In recent years, it has grown into a week of service and diversity events for the university and its surrounding communities. These events always occur at the very beginning of the university’s spring semester.
To ensure progress was made toward the strategic plan, Shenandoah formed the President’s Representatives for Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity (PRIDE) task force in spring of 2018. PRIDE is a group carefully drawn from an intentionally diverse array of stakeholders across all areas of the university. It has played a major role in many initiatives, including the university’s first Campus Climate Survey, which asked for feedback on the campus culture related to inclusion, diversity and equity. In the area of racial diversity, the university currently has a student of color population of 22 percent. In 2018, The Chronicle of Higher Education said that Shenandoah University was one of the top four-year colleges in the U.S. with the biggest increase in the percentage of underrepresented minority students from 2010 to 2016. Underrepresented minorities are considered Hispanic/Latino, African American and American Indian/Alaska Native. According to the article, Shenandoah was ranked 18th in the country among private nonprofit doctoral institutions for its increase in these populations. From 2010 to 2016, Shenandoah’s number of underrepresented groups grew 5.9 percent—from 13.6 percent of the student population in 2010 to 19.5 percent in 2016.
In the area of sexual and gender diversity, Shenandoah approved domestic partner benefits in spring 2010, and in the fall of the following year, it saw the first gathering of “The Q in Question: A Discussion on Chrsitianity, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity.” Since then, the discussion has run, in monthlong weekly segments, 17 times.
In addition, Safe Zone workshops began in 2014. Safe Zone training creates a network of people on campus who seek to affirm and support sexual and gender diversity. Those who complete the training proudly display, within their work or personal space, a sticker designating them as allies who can offer support and resources to LGBTQ+ students, faculty, staff and campus visitors.
The university’s Transgender Task Force, which started within a few years of the Safe Zone program, indentified and addressd needs specific to transgender and gender non-coforming members of the Shenandoah community. Gender identity was added to Shenandoah’s non-discrimiantion statement in 2019, following an intentional pattern of adjusting the university’s non-discrimination statement as understanding of identity and discrimination develops.
A host of diversity-related campus organizations have found a welcoming base of operations and support at the university’s Mosaic Center for Diversity, which had its grand opening in fall 2017. The Mosaic Center, located in the Brandt Student Center, is an inclusive space for all cultures and people, in which all races, sexes, gender identities, gender expressions, religions, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes, sexual orientations, abilities, ages and immigration statuses are embraced. The Mosaic Center aims to inspire all members of the Shenandoah community to strive for inclusive excellence through education, celebration, advocacy, and leadership development.
Another well-established program is Scholars’ Latino Initiative (SLI). This partnership with the Winchester City Public Schools supports and enriches the learning experiences of Latinx high school students so that they can excel in their academic development and realize their college dreams. Through SLI, Shenandoah sophomores are paired with Handley High School sophomores. The Shenandoah students motivate their mentees to complete high school, promote their mentee’s academic success, and to encourage their mentees to pursue higher education. The student organization Estudiantes Unidos is also a growing group at Shenandoah.
Student organizations like the Black Student Union (BSU) continue to play an essential role on campus, with the BSU holding its inaugural Black Excellence Gala & Awards, honoring the exemplary acts of Black students, faculty and community members, in 2020. The organization and other groups dedicated to sharing diverse voices and perspectives brought a virtual celebration of Juneteenth (June 19) to Shenandoah in 2020. Shenandoah also recognized Juneteenth as a university-wide holiday. Juneteenth marks the day in which the last enslaved people learned of their freedom, following the end of the U.S. Civil War.
Additionally, the organization Men United for Excellence has expanded its membership in recent years. The student-of-color mentoring program is designed to address the documented risks men of color face in higher education and help them feel more confident and empowered as students. Additionally, the group helps students develop essential skills to be successful post-graduation. While the group began by serving just African American males, it has since grown to include students who don’t identify themselves as African-American due to outside perceptions of their race or ethnicity.
The summer of 2020 saw Shenandoah make two significant changes. First, the decision was made to remove the name of Harry F. Byrd, Jr. from the School of Business. The late Byrd, who was a Virginia and U.S. Senator, newspaper publisher, and businessman, also played a significant role in Virginia’s Massive Resistance to school desegregation as a legislator in the 1950s, and the university’s board of trustees voted to remove Byrd’s name from the school.
“The board and I understand that we cannot be an institution that serves all students equitably when our business school still holds the name of an individual who denied full integration of schools,” Shenandoah President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., said on the day of the board’s vote. “Although we cannot change history, we have the power to build a better future in which everyone is treated with respect and receives the same opportunities, regardless of race or ethnicity. With life comes experiences, relationships and education that illuminate historical injustices and help us better understand the injustices in our world today. That is what has happened here at Shenandoah. It is during this time in our national history, in which Black individuals continue to experience daily and systemic acts of racism, that we must stand up and act swiftly in order to move forward to a more fair and equitable future.”
The summer of 2020 also saw Shenandoah further redouble its diversity commitment by creating a new assistant provost position for inclusion, diversity and equity and revamping its Non-discrimination and Bias Policy. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics kicked off Fall 2020 with the 19-member Hornets RED (Racial Equality and Diversity) team, which is designed to develop a community devoted to ending racism and discrimination, and is charged with furthering the conversation around experiences of racial injustices in Black and Brown communities. Its goal is to ultimately implement initiatives to create positive cultural change on campus and the surrounding area. RED team membership includes coaches, student-athletes, support staff, administration, faculty, and alumni as well as a representative from the Mosaic Center.
Shenandoah is also crafting an environment in which everyone, ranging across diverse backgrounds, experiences and opinions, can engage in enriching Shenandoah Conversations. The Shenandoah Conversations effort, guided by faculty, staff and student mentors, is designed to help everyone on campus to better participate in thorough, civil, meaningful and thoughtful conversation and debate. Through it, the university hopes that all members of its community will not only be understood, but also be understanding of others.