The Beacon - August 2020 Edition

Spotlighting Racial Equity at JMU


SUMMARY: The Beacon celebrates diversity and inclusion at JMU by spotlighting upcoming engaging opportunities, highlighting campus initiatives, and featuring individuals at the forefront of creating an inclusive community at JMU. This special edition of The Beacon is focused on racial equity.

photo of Art DeanHello JMU community,

As our nation continues to navigate a health pandemic, economic pandemic and a racial pandemic, we want to provide an issue of The Beacon that focuses on information directly highlighting and affirming the continued efforts, engagement and commitment to see a greater impact of racial equity at JMU.  photo of David Owusu-Ansah

As we strive to confront, examine and transform racial and economic inequities at our institution, we should also be cognizant of the tragic events of the recent past—the killings of Black men and women. We recognize that the names listed today do not represent everyone, but they clearly opened the door for our country to self-evaluate its race relations especially toward the Black community, and towards one another. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbrey weren't the first Black people to be killed but the timing of their demise has sparked the awareness for change within our nation and, more importantly, within ourselves. 

It is our fervent hope that what we do at JMU in our diversity efforts will contribute to making our community better and more inclusive for everyone. 

Enjoy, learn and let's make JMU better together,

Art and David

Art Dean, Executive Director for Access and Inclusion

David Owusu-Ansah, Associate Provost for Diversity


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students and community members marching across campus March for Our Lives

On June 12th the JMU chapter of the NAACP organized “March for Our Lives” as a peaceful way of speaking out against racism in America. The student-let march honored Black lives lost to systemic racism and police brutality. The march began on Warner Commons and ended at Spirit Rock. An estimated 350 people attended. To read more about the march, click here.

JMU Hosted Town Halls and Conversations

To better understand and address racial injustice, JMU hosted a series of virtual town halls to facilitate open discussions in the days immediately following the national response. These constituent focused conversations included:

  • June 3rd: JMU & Community
  • June 4th: Faculty & Staff
  • June 10th: Black Faculty
  • June 11th: Students
  • July 1st: Black Faculty
  • July 8th: Student Athletes
  • July 28th: Coaches and Athletic Administration
  • And multiple conversations with Black student leaders and university administration

Centering Black voices from across the university, the conversation continued with virtual discussions to advance racial justice on campus and beyond (click on link for video recordings).

Facilitated by and for students, the Tuesday Night Live series included the following discussions:

Antiracism and Social Justice Workshops

The Center for Civic Engagement offered several workshops for faculty and staff in July. These workshops were created to explore ways to incorporate antiracism and social justice pedagogy into courses across disciplines and in programming. The sessions were facilitated by a team of presenters from across campus and included Q&A and “can do” living documents specific for staff and faculty available here. Recordings of the workshops are available upon request. Email for access.

cfi-110x300.pngExploring Our Own Identities: Laying the Groundwork for Social Justice Action

CFI Online Synchronous Workshop for Faculty

The first step in social justice education is to understand who we are ourselves—our own experiences, positionalities, oppressions, privileges, and more. Increased self-awareness affects how we show up for the multi-faceted students in our own courses, as well as the ways we guide interactions that account for students’ own, full selves. In this online workshop, participants will engage in a variety of activities intended to encourage critical, and sometimes uncomfortable, self-reflection and group dialogue, as a way of preparing for action. Wednesday, August 5, 3:30 pm (sign up open until 2:30 pm).

COVID19, Vulnerability, and Hard Conversations in On-Line Teaching

CFI Online Synchronous Roundtable for Faculty

Our moment of COVID 19, social distancing, racial reckoning, economic uncertainty, and technological challenges placed between individuals has challenged understandings of authentic human connection across social spheres, but especially for class instruction. Teaching with heart amid this moment requires great care, intention, and skill to help close distance, build relations, and encouraging healing among people. In this roundtable, participants will explore spontaneous and intentional vulnerability as a pedagogy of vulnerability. Wednesday, August 12, 9:00 am.

Gilbert giving box of food with mask onAlumnus Works to Bring Health Equity for Virginians during COVID-19

Gilbert Bland (’77) epitomizes service-centered leadership on behalf of his fellow Virginians.  When the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting Virginians, Bland found yet another opportunity to lead through service. As a member of Sentara’s Health Equities Workgroup and with his familiarity of community needs from his work with the Urban League, Bland encouraged testing of underserved populations, including those in Harrisonburg. To learn more about Gilbert’s work, click here.


photo of Deborah Tompins JohnsonNow is the Time

Deborah Tompkins Johnson (‘78) - Board of Visitors Vice Rector, Board of Visitors 1988-1994, Co-Founder, Black Alumni Chapter, 1995 Roop Alumni Service Award,Alumnae and Foundation Boards, Legacies: Brother - 1984, Niece - 2001, Grandson - 2023

We have two dominant crises in our country, and worldwide right now: the Coronavirus pandemic and the multiple incidents of racism, unfair treatment, and dehumanization of people.  Once again, renewed calls have erupted for social justice and racial equity, particularly following the heartless killing of George Floyd and too many others who preceded and followed him. 

For the Coronavirus, the response is somewhat prescribed:  more vigilant hand hygiene, wearing of face coverings and social distancing.

However, to eradicate racism and other social injustices, apparently takes many lifetimes and too many lives. 

The questions to address are, what can I do individually and what can we do together to make a difference NOW, in this lifetime?

One action I am taking, among others, is to serve on JMU’s newly created Task Force on Racial Equity.  I pledge to work hard, listen and proactively seek input to create a plan of action.  I pledge to be vigilant in honoring the urgency that has been called for by many—students, faculty, staff, administrators and other University decision-makers.  We need outcomes that lead us to transformation in race relations, human relations and other issues related to access, diversity and inclusion.

I am extremely pleased my Board of Visitors colleagues and I are unanimous in wanting quick and meaningful action regarding racial equity specifically, and diversity and inclusion more broadly.  I look forward to continued collaboration and I challenge myself and other task force members to work towards exemplary outcomes for JMU.  

Now is the time to embrace the change we at JMU speak of so often and move forward to create a model the JMU community embraces and that other organizations will want to follow.


norman-200x300.jpgBuilding Our New Home
Norman Jones, III (’21) Student Representative to the Board of Visitors

I am entering my senior year at JMU, the university my family has called home for over 30 years. And although we are enamored with the feeling of Madison, I have been reminded of the disheartening reality that racism, in its many forms, has always existed on our campus. I’ve participated in numerous townhalls, protests, and other acts of good trouble to help our community listen to this reality, and hopefully heal. After all, as the Student Representative to our Board of Visitors, I have a duty to advocate for each of our 22,000 students and their Madison experience, especially as it pertains to inequities they face on our campus.

During the first of a series of townhalls sponsored by the Madison Center for Civic Engagement, one of my fellow panelists, Jordan Todd, recalled a metaphor for dismantling systemic racism in the same way an ignored leak in your home can eventually rot the wooden foundation, requiring you to “tear it down to the studs”. We have begun our own home renovation, as JMU has moved forward with removing the names of buildings that honored confederate soldiers, compiled and prioritized action items brought to light by students and organizations like JMU NAACP, and continued conversations with our community.

I want to be clear – the call for action to tear down the studs of our Bluestone home in the Valley is also followed by the expectation that our new home will be accessible and equitable for each of us. There will still inevitably be leaks. Our marginalized communities know that we will still have issues to face. However, the presence of obstacles should not inhibit our commitment to moving forward. Myself and other students have built new relationships with the university to systemically engrain this work towards equity and justice. Our new home at Madison will live in a way that shows Black Lives Matter, that we actively engage with ideas and the world, and that because of our many differences, we unite as Dukes to conquer each new day.   


Ogundipe-BW-200x255.jpgDiversity’s Ability to Produce Adaptable Solutions

Bayo Ogundipe - Associate Professor and Interim Unit Head, Department of Engineering

I joined the Department of Engineering at JMU (then School of Engineering) in 2010. It has been quite exciting building a new engineering program in a traditional liberal arts institution. I have been fortunate to work with a diverse collection of colleagues across JMU on a range of initiatives. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and grew up fully aware of the limitations of inadequate access to “basic” technology on personal and communal development.  My life and career experiences have also made me a firm believer in holistic, cross-disciplinary approaches to problem solving and implementation. The technological advances that have led to the ubiquity of personal video capturing devices have also led to recently reignited national conversations on the long-endured state of inequities in the country. Yet, there are obvious limitations to the role science and technology alone can play in offering lasting solutions.

I have often relied on and adapted the technical skills, which I have acquired as a process engineer, to enable me to identify bottlenecks and choke points in many systems. Over time, these skills have helped me to cultivate the intuition to recognize potential unintended consequences of new ideas. It is, however, our social connections and abilities to work with a diverse range of people that will allow us to seek and foster collaborations that produce feasible and realistic solutions that are also adaptable. 

As the demographics of the country changes and conversations on the role of higher education become more relevant, I aspire to be at the forefront of the movement to hold higher education accountable to its promise of being the source of best ideas and practices for a truly sustainable and inclusive society.

photo of Rudy MolinaIt Takes More Than Good People to Make Great Change

Rudy M. Molina, Jr. - Vice Provost, Student Academic Success & Enrollment Management and Assistant Professor, College of Education  

Having recently moved to Harrisonburg, my wife and I have done our best to help our boys' transition. As challenging as it has been, we are using the local, regional, and national headlines as learning opportunities. We have had several conversations in recent months about how both COVID-19 and the racial abuse and police brutality experienced by African Americans have impacted us as individuals as well as our family unit. Our strategy has been to bring it home and make connections to our lived experiences and help our boys learn and grow from it.

Unfortunately, too many examples from our own personal journey came to mind, too quickly, as we talked about what it means to be brown, bilingual, immigrant, and educated in the US. There is a sense of empowerment, while also experiencing the harsh realities of being a liminal character, constantly crossing both literal and figurative borders. I am pleased to share that talking through our experience as a family, over meals and ice cream, has been cathartic and has brought us closer together.  

As a member of the JMU team, and now the new SASEM team, I pledge to work towards bringing us together to create a community that is inclusive, brings new ideas together, and leverages our natural assets of diversity, creativity, and pride. Please join me in building a team that advances opportunity for the greater good, as well as for those who have been forgotten and/or pushed to the margins. 

Thank you for the work you have already done and thank you in advance for all the time, energy, and effort you will put forth. 


Photo of Sheary Darcus JohnsonThe Path Past “Separate but Equal”

Sheary Darcus Johnson ('70, '74M) reflects on her Madison Experience, as the institution's first African American graduate, and shares how she has drawn from her life's path to benefit other people through education and ministry. Also included is a history of Virginia segregated schools by history professor Meg Mulrooney. To learn more about Sheary’s experience and the history of Virginia’s segregated schools, click here.

photo of signage being changedBoard unanimously approves renaming Jackson, Ashby and Maury Halls

On July 7, 2020 the JMU Board of Visitors unanimously approved the removal of the names of three buildings on JMU’s historic Quad that honor Confederate leaders—Jackson, Ashby and Maury halls. Immediately following the vote, signage was taken down and temporary names were assigned. Read more here.

screenshot of Story MapJMU Building History and Context

In 2018 students in the Introduction to Public History course (designed and taught by Dr. Meg Mulrooney) created an interactive StoryMap of the Quad noting that the changing landscape of JMU’s entire campus has always reflected both shifts in the student demographic and its values. Explore the StoryMap

photo of displayBlack Studies and Black Spaces

Black Critical Frameworks and Communities at JMU and Beyond, 1968 to the Present is a course designed and taught by Dr. Besi Muhonja and Dr. Mollie Godfrey and developed through a Provost’s Faculty Curriculum Diversity Grant. Fall 2019 course students created an exhibit to locate JMU within this national history, while creating an archive for JMU Special Collections. The exhibit is currently on display at various locations in ISAT/ENGO.

Additionally, students created a Black Firsts at JMU timeline to honor the firsts who paved the way to have courses, jobs, and a voice for many Black and minority students.

photo of Raleigh in front of Paul Jennings exhibitNot Forgotten

JMU alumus Raleigh Marshall (’05) is a descendant of Paul Jennings, an African American enslaved attendant to James Madison and his family. To learn about Raleigh’s discovery of his great-great-great-grandfather, Paul Jennings, and the student nomination that led to the naming of Paul Jennings Hall, click here.


Task Force on Racial Equity

A Task Force on Racial Equity is being established to advise the president and administration of JMU on issues of racial equity, receive and provide feedback on information related to current and planned initiatives, and generate additional recommendations for the short, medium, and long term. The membership of the task force will include representation from various constituencies including the student body, faculty, staff, alumni, and community.

This newly formed task force will build on the foundation established by the Task Force on Inclusion (2017-2019) and the Diversity Task Force Initiative (2012-2013).

For abbreviated highlights from the Task Force on Inclusion, click here.

For the final report of the Diversity Task Force Initiative, click here.

AAAD logoAfrican, African American, and Diaspora Studies Program Enhancements

AAAD program now has over 80 course offerings and 60 faculty members. AAAD is excited to announce several enhancements to the program next year.

With the support of the Office of the Provost, the College of Arts and Letters, and the Office of Access and Inclusion, AAAD will now receive an annual budget of $25,000, starting next year for a guaranteed three years. Tentatively set for January 2021, AAAD will be moving into office space in Moody Hall. Beginning next year, the administrative work of AAAD will be supported by Office of Access & Inclusion.  

AAAD is working with the College of Arts and Letters, Academic Affairs/Office of the Provost, Office of VP Research and Scholarship, Office of VP University Advancement and Access and Inclusion on a plans to establish a Center for African, African American and Diaspora Studies at JMU in the new space.

AAAD is in ongoing collaborations with different units at JMU including CFI, JMU Initiatives in Africa (Office of the President/Office of the Provost), College of Integrated Sciences and Engineering, JMU Libraries, Sisters in Session, School of Theatre and Dance, Professional and Continuing Studies, Honors College, Department of Engineering, CGE, School of Communications, Furious Flower, Cohen Center, Department of History, Department of English, Political Science and International Affairs, Center for Civic Engagement, WRTC, Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue, XLabs, School of Integrated Sciences and the Department of Biology among others. It is hoped that such work, along with ongoing partnerships with institutions across the globe, will flourish in the center.

AAAD will continue to run its busy annual programming as efforts to establish the center continue. To learn more about AAAD and follow our progress, click here.

photo of bluestone archNaming Opportunities

The university is undertaking an inclusive process to rename the three campus buildings in which the JMU community will have the opportunity to offer naming suggestions. The Naming Opportunities website provides the background, resources and process for naming campus spaces and buildings, the policy which allows the process to move forward consistently, the committee charge to research university history and produce a list of individuals deserving recognition, and how to submit a naming suggestion.

Senior Leadership Responding to Constituent Recommendations

The university is committed to both short and long-term changes in our culture and community and we have heard many suggestions from students, faculty, staff, and alumni over the past two months.  We have developed a small team that is working immediately on these recommendations focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at JMU.  This team is made up of Tim Miller, Rudy Molina, Cynthia Bauerle, Towana Moore, Carson Lonett, Shay Lumpkin, and Art Dean.  This team is meeting every week and is also meeting monthly with a group of current students that was organized by the JMU NAACP Chapter and the Student Representative to the Board of Visitors, Norman Jones.  This group will be sharing updates with the community monthly as progress is made on the suggestions that have been shared and other areas where JMU can continue to grow and improve as a community.

Recruitment, Selection and Retention of Diverse Employees

Search committees are encouraged to learn more about the value of diversity in the hiring process. Human Resources, the Office of Access and Inclusion and the Office of the Associate Provost for Diversity have teamed together to provide online informational sessions and one-on-one consultation services to all search committees. Learn more about diversity in hiring practices at JMU here.

Preventing Harassment and Discrimination Employee Training

Beginning in fall 2020 JMU employees will have the opportunity to learn how to prevent all forms of harassment and discrimination on campus through an online learning course. Preventing Harassment & Discrimination promotes the idea of a positive workplace culture in which everyone plays a role, develops awareness to recognize multiple forms of harassment and discrimination, cultivates positive attitudes, and educates on how to prevent and respond to incidents of retaliation.

Building a Diverse Student Body: Prospective Student Visit Programs

University Admissions and the Students for Minority Outreach annually coordinate Overnight at Madison. Formerly known as Black Freshmen Weekend, this highly successful 30 year program is one of JMU’s largest recruitment programs for African American high school students. Over 75% of participants enroll at JMU.

Wednesday's at Madison provides a special visit program for organizations that serve first generation and low income students. On these specific days, groups will learn about the academic colleges and available resources. This program is by invitation only.

AVID: JMU partners with AVID schools for student visits. Over the past four years over 3,000 underrepresented students have visited JMU as a result of this partnership

Partnership for the Future: Since 2005 JMU has been a sponsor/partner with the Partnership for the Future program of Richmond, Virginia.  This program serves under-represented/low income students with internships, college readiness and support from high school through college graduation.

JMU Signs Contract to Conduct an External Climate Study

In July 2020, JMU awarded a contract to conduct an external climate study to Rankin & Associates Consulting. Choosing to conduct a climate study was based on the recommendations of several JMU working groups, as well as individual requests. The President’s Task Force on Inclusion submitted a letter to President Alger with a unanimous recommendation for an external climate study. Implementation planning is set to begin in early Fall 2020.

light bulbs with the word "grants"IDEA Grants

Since 2006, over one hundred Innovative Efforts Award (IDEA) grants have been awarded for a total of $331,857. IDEA grants test original ideas and/or develop sustainable activities and projects for the enrichment of diversity and inclusion at JMU. Individuals, departments, units or groups submit proposals for activities designed to enhance diversity and inclusion in the broadest terms. For more info and list of previous grant winners, click here.

Provost’s Faculty Diversity Curriculum Grants

The Provost's Faculty Diversity Curriculum Grants were established to encourage more diversity intelligence in all aspects of the curriculum, in support of faculty interest, and to offer students more experience with the pervasive impact of difference in a multicultural society. In the past four years grants totaling $ 80,000 have been awarded. For more info and list of previous grant winners, click here.

The Beacon logoThe Beacon: Spotlighting Inclusivity at JMU

Beyond this special edition, for three years The Beacon has celebrated diversity and inclusion at JMU by spotlighting upcoming engaging opportunities, highlighting campus initiatives, and featuring individuals at the forefront of creating an inclusive community at JMU. This e-newsletter is sent to students, faculty, and staff twice a semester. To explore inclusion at JMU through the shining light of The Beacon, click here.

photo of presenter at the Diversity ConferenceAnnual Diversity Conference

The Office of the President sponsors the annual JMU Diversity Conference. For over thirteen years this popular conference has celebrated diversity by providing learning opportunities for faculty, staff and our local community through a multitude of sessions, engaging keynote speakers, and award recognitions.

student presenting at the Diversity SummitStudent Diversity Summit

New in February, 2020, the Student Diversity Summit aims to give JMU students of all identities the opportunity to exchange ideas on issues of diversity and inclusion, a space and place to have honest conversations, and an opportunity to develop their awareness, knowledge, and skills related to all forms of diversity alongside peers.


CMSS logoCenter for Multicultural Student Services

The Center for Multicultural Student Services provides educational and celebratory programs and services that support an inclusive campus community in which members value diversity within themselves and others. CMSS programs include:

  • MLK Week
  • Homecoming Step Show
  • Black History Month
  • DEEP Impact Dialogue Series

CMSS is home to 33 multicultural student organizations. These orgs are diverse in their membership as well as in their focuses, with interests ranging in the areas of diversity, religious affiliation, service, multicultural Greek life, and academics. As a department CMSS supports these organizations in their efforts to educate the campus community about their interest areas through programs, events, and celebratory gatherings.


THRIVE is a new multi-dimensional program in the Graduate School that seeks to foster connections among diverse graduate student communities. THRIVE is dedicated to providing meaningful support and growth opportunities for graduate students of diverse perspectives.

photo of students and mentorsMulticultural Peer Mentoring Program

The Multicultural Peer Mentor Program assists multicultural first-year and first-semester transfer students in making a successful and effective transition to James Madison University. It is an excellent opportunity to meet other students of color, gain valuable skills from Counseling Center staff, and develop a network of support on campus. To participate in or to learn more about this program, click here.

Student Diversity Academic Organizations

Several organizations support multicultural students within their area of study. A partial list includes:

  • Minority Programmers Association
  • Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
  • National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE)
  • Chemistry Department Student Inclusion Task Force
  • Biology Students of Color (BIOSCOC) email:
  • JMU Chapter of National Society for Black Engineers  
  • Diversity and Inclusion in Global Security
  • Future Teachers of Color
  • National Society of Minorities in Hospitality

SGA diversity committee logoSGA Diversity & Inclusion Committee on Facebook

Check out SGA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee and their Facebook page dedicated to highlighting diversity within JMU: @sgadiversityandinclusioncommittee


Antiracism & Social Justice Education Resources

The Center for Civic Engagement has consolidated a wide variety of resources from around campus on antiracism and social justice education. Many disciplines and programs at JMU address the historic and ongoing manifestations of racial inequality and injustice in higher education and society. Antiracism and social justice education can equip us with knowledge and skills to analyze, understand and intervene in systems of oppression in order to create a more equitable and just society and democracy. This webpage also includes links to resources, videos and discussion points on the following topics:

  • Ending Systemic Racism at JMU Virtual Discussion
  • Athletics and Social Justice
  • Antiracism & Black Agency through Arts
  • Rethinking Policing Virtual Discussion & Resources

stack of ideal books with racial justice titlesRecommended Readings in Antiracism

Coordinated by Dr. Allison Fagan, these recommended readings in antiracism are organized by category:

  • Literature: Respite, Resistance, and Reimagining
  • Black Histories: The National and The Personal
  • On State-Sanctioned Violence: Enslavement, Incarceration, and Beyond
  • On Activism: Protest, Civil Disobedience, Direct Action, and More
  • On Encountering Anti-Blackness in the University
  • JMU Contributions to Antiracist Teaching and Scholarship
  • Tools for (White) Allies and Co-Conspirators
  • Spaces for Reading and For Listening: Podcasts
  • List of Lists

Dr. Fagan is a Latin American, Latinx, and Caribbean Studies (LAXC) coordinator/Professor, and African, African American, and Diaspora Studies faculty member.

JMU Libraries: Antiracism in Action online book display

In the new Antiracism in Action online book display, you will find e-resources available through JMU Libraries to help you educate yourself on the past to understand the present, to amplify and listen to the voices of those affected by racism, and to confront the current and ongoing injustices in the United States.

me and white supremac;y book coverWAKE UP Book Club

WAKE UP (White Accomplices Knowing Experiences Underlying Racism) was introduced to JMU last year, with the goal of supporting racial inclusion and justice efforts at JMU. This experience aims to create a community where white people are encouraged to reflect on their white identity and experiences in order to become better allies to People of Color and interrupt systemic racism in their communities and workplaces. Even with the COVID interruption, over 25 staff and faculty from across the University—including administrators, faculty, professional advisors, and center directors—completed the semester long program.  

The program will continue this fall.  If you might be interested in joining us, please let us know by filling out this form so we can be in touch as we finalize our fall plans.  Although days and times are not determined, the groups will meet every other week, and will focus on the 28 days of reflection outlined in Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” along with a second book.

X-Labs Narratives' logoJMU X-Labs Narratives Podcast Featuring Members of the JMU Community

JMU X-Labs has recently launched a podcast covering topics related to racial injustice on the local JMU community level as well as the national level. Listen to members of the JMU community, including President Alger, share their narratives. New episodes every Wednesday & Friday. Available on Spotify, click here.

Photo Credits: JMU University Marketing Photography, Jane Mount “Ideal Bookshelf 1162: Anti-Racism”

The Beacon has been created by the Office of Access & Inclusion to share the good work of academic and administrative departments, students, affinity groups and more in supporting diversity and inclusion at JMU.

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