Background: Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity

The University of Virginia has long grappled with its complex and dichotomous history. In the late 18th and early 19th century, Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, became the nation’s third president, and founded a university on the primacy of knowledge, with a library at its center.  Jefferson also enslaved close to 700 Africans who built his home, Monticello, as well as the University—where the considerable skills of his enslaved artisans, some of them his children, are still obvious.

In the early 20th century, the University’s Board of Visitors appointed a president, Edwin Alderman, to oversee the operation of a rapidly expanding institution.  President Alderman was determined to establish the University of Virginia as a modern research institution, and among his efforts to that end were the building of the library that bears his name, and the hiring of a number of faculty specializing in a new “science” called eugenics, aimed at preserving the alleged genetic superiority of white people.

Since Alderman’s time, the University has made strides in addressing its troubled history.  From the 1960s through the mid-1970s, President Edgar Shannon oversaw the admission of women and African Americans, and he established the Office of African-American Affairs.  In the 1990s, President John Casteen created a cabinet-level Office of Diversity & Equity and worked affirmatively to ensure African-American students who enrolled in the University graduated.  Our most recent president, Teresa Sullivan, established the President’s Commission on Slavery & the University and subsequently appointed a President’s Commission on Segregation & the University.  Implicit bias training is now required for entering students, and faculty are trained to intervene when implicit bias is spotted. The Office of the Provost requires all academic schools and departments to appoint directors of inclusion and diversity.  The College & Graduate School of Arts and Sciences recently established an associate deanship dedicated to inclusion, equity, and diversity.

Buildings names have changed to honor the achievements of those who shattered stereotypes and glass ceilings.  In 2017, The School of Medicine renamed its Jordan Hall (the physician Harvey Jordan—hired by Edwin Alderman—was an arch eugenicist) to Pinn Hall to commemorate Vivian Pinn, a 1967 alumnae, only woman and only African-American in her class.

A Diversity Dashboard recommended by the Office of the Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity offers instant demographic data on faculty, students, University schools, departments, and faculty and staff, including University Library.  The dashboard’s data on the library shows us how much farther we still have to go.