Administration building near sunset
By Roanoke College News

Roanoke leadership committed to looking back, moving forward

In a Zoom webinar with students Tuesday, Roanoke College President Michael C. Maxey and members of his cabinet brought students up-to-date on the College’s efforts to become a more diverse, equal and inclusive environment.

Maxey detailed a number of efforts the College is making, and reviewed some of the steps Roanoke has taken in the past to create a more inclusive campus.

Moving forward often requires looking backward, and Maxey spoke at length about the College’s efforts to examine its own history. Dr. Jesse Bucher, associate professor of history at Roanoke College, is a key part of that. Bucher is heading up the Center for Studying Structures of Race, which will serve as an academic hub for researching the legacies of slavery and institutional racism and inform College plans, already underway, for a campus memorial to honor the enslaved workers who built the Administration Building and Miller Hall.

The College has made multiple requests to Roanoke County government officials to relocate the Confederate monument currently located in front of West Hall. The monument stands on Roanoke County land, prohibiting the College itself from moving it. 

As Maxey explained on the call Tuesday, the College has offered to pay to move the memorial, and has offered to help find other locations. The College is currently looking into other locations for the memorial.

“I’ve found them, to this point, to be open to input, but they do not have any plans currently to move the statue,” Maxey said of County officials. “So we have work to be done there. I will stay involved with that.”

“We all recognize the importance and urgency of this moment.”

Roanoke College President Michael C. Maxey

While these are the newest efforts by the College to promote diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, these are not the first. Richard Smith, vice president and dean of the college, presented information about measures the College has taken in recent years to make the campus more inclusive, including:

  • Creating the position of a LGBTQ+ Coordinator in 2018.
  • Becoming more intentional about diversifying the faculty.
  • Conducting a survey in 2019 of students, faculty and staff to better understand the campus climate, and support for diversity and equity.
  • Joining the Consortium for Faculty Diversity at Liberal Arts Colleges (CFD) in 2019. As part of this, Roanoke is planning on hiring two Postdoctoral Fellows of diverse backgrounds, each with two-year appointments.
  • Creating the Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee (DISC) in 2019.
  • Establishing the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Seminar to recognize the idea that scientific contributions come from individuals of all backgrounds.
  • Approving an official Diversity and Inclusion Statement this year.
  • Recognizing Juneteenth this year, the first such observance in the College’s history.
  • Educating faculty and staff during a two-day teach-in on race Aug. 12 and 13. Twenty faculty and staff collaborated to create 10 hours of  Zoom presentations focused on race and racism as they play out in our various communities (at Roanoke College, in southwest Virginia and nationally). The main goal was to increase faculty and staff understanding about the College’s history in connection with race, racism and the labor of enslaved peoples, and also become more familiar with some of the multitude of intersecting issues of race and society.

As Dr. Brenda Poggendorf, vice president of enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid, detailed during the Zoom webinar that the student body has become more diverse over the years. Twenty years ago, just 6% of people enrolled at the College were students of color. Ten years ago, that number had risen to 9.5%, and in 2019 that number was up to 18%. Still, Poggendorf said, there is work to be done to make the campus more inclusive.

Maxey said this is an important time in the history of the College and the United States as a whole, and that Roanoke strives to be on the right side of history as it moves forward.

“We all recognize the importance and urgency of this moment,” Maxey said.