Even before she came to Virginia Tech in August 2012, Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Perillo said she was drawn to Virginia Tech’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. “The Principles of Community are such a visible statement of Virginia Tech’s commitment and intent,” she said. “I see the university living the Principles of Community every day. It is significant that we are willing to hold a mirror up to ourselves and name the work we do well and address the work we need to do.”
In 2005, Virginia Tech took an innovative step to create a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to diversity programs and practices. The Principles of Community were affirmed by the board of visitors and signed by eight university organizations. They include a strong articulation of the educational benefits of diversity to the entire student population.
In subsequent years, efforts to bring diversity issues into the mainstream of university decision-making have taken many forms to create conditions in which the entire population can pursue, strengthen, and improve the university’s commitment to being diverse and inclusive.
“The Principles of Community gave us a common language, a way to frame how we want to evolve as a community,” said Ray Williams, director of Multicultural Programs and Services. “They also gave us something to hold us accountable. The challenge is making them something each person in our community is aware of and adopts. How well we do it communicates how serious we are about inclusion, diversity, social justice, and equity.”
William T. Lewis, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said the university is “thinking beyond what we traditionally address as diversity issues. We want to work toward a culture of affirmation of differences and respect for the inherent integrity of an individual.”
There are 8,151 non-white students at Virginia Tech, roughly 28.7 percent of all students enrolled. There are 2,510 international students from 108 countries on campus.
“The Virginia Tech experience has to happen for lots of different people in lots of different ways,” Williams said. “We can’t apply broad, sweeping values to everyone, because not everyone receives information in the same way and not everyone starts from the same vantage point. We need to be responsive to all the different ways diversity is defined.”
Maggie Appel-Schumacher of Mackenbach, Germany, a senior majoring in German and international studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, spent her first two years at Virginia Tech living in the World, a theme housing community that fosters understanding of diverse cultures. “It connected me with other students who were far from home. My roommate was Chinese. I had neighbors from Sri Lanka and Kenya. The friends I made, the connections — these are the people who define what Virginia Tech is for me. It’s all about celebrating differences and at the same time coming together as Hokies.”
Cranwell International Center offers English conversation groups, social events, orientation activities, and ambassador programs that engage both international and domestic students, faculty, and staff. Through these programs, international students not only become comfortable with their American experience, but also share their personal stories and cultures with the campus and local community.
Jiale Du of Chengdu, Sichuan, China, is a freshman majoring in biochemistry and chemistry in the College of Science. She said the first-year seminar offered by Cranwell helped her adjust to a new culture and college life. “Academically, I learned about the American style of conducting classes, how to manage my time, and how to study more efficiently. I learned about Virginia culture by going on an overnight trip in Appalachia”
Du rooms with an American, an intentional choice she said has made a huge difference in her experience. “Having an American roommate helps me improve my spoken English and learn more about the American way of life. She has taught me American slang to help me to adapt to this country more quickly. We always talk about the differences between America and China, and my roommate is really interested in the culture of China.”
Many international students don’t realize how much they teach American students, said Suzanne Baker, assistant director for Cranwell International Center. “They open up students to thinking about and questioning stereotypes. They raise awareness of cultural sensitivity. They help prepare our students for lives in a global society. They bring the world to Virginia Tech.”
That’s important to the community as a whole, Perillo said. “Every one of us has a unique identity, and understanding differences begins with self-understanding,” she said. “We reach students at a crucial time in the development of their identities. It is our responsibility to create an environment in which every person can be welcomed, valued, and affirmed for who they are.”
For more information on this topic, contact Sandy Broughton at 540-231-3467.
On March 14, 2005, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and eight university organizations affirmed the Principles of Community.