James Madison University

Professor B.J. Bryson Wins the Diversity Enhancement Award

By: Lori News
Posted: April 30, 2014

PHOTO: Recipients of DEAP awards

In April 2014, Dr. B.J. Bryson, social work professor, won the Diversity Enhancement Award for her contributions to JMU and the Harrisonburg community.

The purpose of the Diversity Enhancement Awards Program (DEAP) is to recognize individuals and units that have demonstrated a significant commitment to enhance diversity at JMU.

The DEAP Committee, made up of faculty, staff and students, review nominations from fellow colleagues and department heads to select a person or organization that best represents the importance of diversity through their endeavors.

This year Dr. B.J. Bryson, or just simply “B.J.” as she is known to her family, students and friends, was recognized for her effort to bring together JMU and Waynesboro High school students and community members to offer opportunities to minority youth students.

In 2010 Bryson was awarded a grant from the Virginia Department of Education to develop the Purple and Gold connection with Waynesboro High School students. Its mission is “to help young people become engaged in their life process, to develop their voices and to make proactive life decisions.”

Sophomore WHS students are recommended by their teachers as having the potential for success with higher education. These students are then paired with JMU student mentors who by developing positive relationships, help them set goals and make plans to actualize those goals.

According to Lisa McGuire, social work department head, “for the past three years, this innovative school-community partnership seeks to provide opportunities for students who may be vulnerable due to race, ethnicity, poverty or other barriers in the transition to higher education.”

Not only does Bryson spend countless hours per week training JMU students to become leaders and role models while also giving hours of individual time to JMU and WHS students, she also serves as the Chair of the CHBS Diversity Council.

This council addresses issues regarding LGBTQ concerns, students with disability and mental health concerns and cyber/direct sexual harassment. She also sponsored a “Let’s Talk” session on diversity in January.

Cindy Hunter, social work professor and colleague, describes Bryson as “one who is not settled until she has found a part of community with whom to connect, engage and share her talents.”

Six years ago, Bryson drafted a Diversity Plan. She conducted a study of the social work department’s diversity content by organizing a group of faculty members and diverse students to survey how safe diverse students feel within the social work department. With a new elective course made up of five students this semester, she encouraged the students to revisit the results and present them at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity conference.

McGuire believes, “she is a role model for faculty in how to infuse commitment to diversity throughout their teaching, research and service to the campus and community.”