The Beacon - May 2021 Edition

Spotlighting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at JMU


SUMMARY: The Beacon celebrates diversity, equity 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.

photo of Lara MajorGenuine Conversations, Thought-Provoking Programs and Relevant Resources

This spring, we celebrated the graduation of more than 4,600 students in the Class of 2021.  As I think about each of those graduates, I reflect upon the top priority of the Board of Visitors, which is to work alongside the JMU administration to uphold our mission to be “a community committed to preparing students to be educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives”. Our dedication to this mission is inseparable from our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  We cannot accomplish one without the other. 

As we focus on preparing our graduates to successfully live and work in an increasingly complex and diverse society, we must commit to creating a learning environment where different perspectives are equally valued.  We must equip our graduates with racial and cultural awareness that will help them enact positive change in the world.  As you will read in this edition of The Beacon, countless individuals have worked diligently to do just that.  

This year, each of us was challenged to examine our beliefs and values as we were confronted with continued racial and social injustices.  I am thankful for the members of the JMU community who provided opportunities for us to listen and learn, both inside and outside the classroom.  Our community has benefited from genuine conversations, thought-provoking programs and relevant resources. Working collectively with students, faculty and staff, the Board of Visitors is committed to ensuring our institutional practices and policies reflect a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.   

While there is still much work to be done, I am encouraged by the steps we are taking to make JMU a more inclusive institution.  I hope you will share this feeling with me as you read about the people, programs and initiatives that are helping us live up to our mission. 

Lara Major
Rector of the Board of Visitors

In this issue:

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At the Forefront: Initiatives Making a Difference

JMU Leadership Approves New Names for Three Buildings on Campusphotos of building honorees

On February 19th the James Madison University’s Board of Visitors approved the renaming of three buildings on the campus’s historic Quad Drs. Joanne V. and Alexander Gabbin; Dr. Sheary Darcus Johnson (’70, ’74M); and Doris Harper Allen (’19H) and Robert Walker Lee. Read the full story including biographical information on each of the honorees.

Joanne Gabbin Donates Collection to the JMU Libraries

Libraries is thrilled to announce that Joanne Gabbin has donated her professional, academic, and personal manuscripts, photographs, letters, and other papers to Special Collections in JMU Libraries. Thanks to her donation, and work by our Special Collections student employees and staff, Gabbin’s papers are now available to researchers. Read the full story.

Standing Together

JMU responds to rise of hate crimes, violence and vitriol directed at our Asian and Asian American sisters and brothers. Read the full statement.

photo of Carrier libraryContextualizing Anti-Asian racism in the United State: Then and Now

Members of the JMU Libraries Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion prepared a virtual book display, Contextualizing Anti-Asian Racism in the United States, in response to the tragic murders in Atlanta this March and the recent increase in hateful acts against AAPI people in the US. These resources can support self-directed learning about Asian American cultures, histories, and perseverance in the United States. Visit the virtual book display to learn more.

photo of spirit rockA Message of Support and Solidarity

On April 20th, JMU leadership released a message of support and solidarity, calling all members of the JMU community to lift each other up and affirm one another, take a moment to check in and support colleagues, friends and classmates during these challenging times. Read the full statement.

Unity March photo of students marghing

On April 29th Daerenz Lyons, Norman Jones and Dequan Nichols along with the Black Leadership Coalition organized the Unity March to address issues that are facing the BIPOC community. Participants made signs, marched across campus to Festival Lawn and held a speak-out and spirit rock painting. Watch local news coverage.

Supporting Local PreK-12 Students

collage of young students Scholarships for Summer Youth Programs

Professional & Continuing Education is excited to share that we’ll be offering more scholarships to our summer programs than ever before. Thanks to a partnership with CISE, funds awarded us through an IDEA grant, and Giving Day funds, we’ve been able to work with several community partners, including schools, to help identify children in need, and offer them a spot in one of our various camps. In total we’re able to award 37 scholarships totaling $10,945. Explore PCE youth programs.

Help promote DEI through Athletics' Book Drive images of three book covers

The JMU Athletics Diversity and Inclusion Council is partnering with Harrisonburg City Public Schools in an effort to promote both Diversity and Inclusion and literacy within Harrisonburg City Public Schools. We're asking for your help by donating a book(s), each of which has been recommended by the council and approved by Harrisonburg City Public Schools. Our goal is to provide one book to each child enrolled in Harrisonburg City Public Schools grades Pre-K – Kindergarten. To date we have collected 600 books. Help us reach our 1000 book goal! Read the full story with link to order books.

photo of professor working with students in labGeorge Vidal brings Brain-Bee opportunity full circle to high school students

While in high school biology professor George Vidal participated in Brain-Bee, an international competition promoting neuroscience education. Inspired, Vidal went on earn his undergraduate degree in neuroscience at Harvard. Now a biology professor at JMU, but never forgetting that experience, Vidal teamed with the Center for STEM Education and Outreach to provide Brain-Bee to local students. Brain-Bee gives all students in our region an academic competition opportunity in STEM that they typically wouldn’t have while allowing them to learn more about authentic research experiences. Read the full story.

Digital Stories

students working on recordingsHarrisonburg 360 Podcast: Real People, Real Stories, One Community

JMU students in Allison Fagan’s English 360 class have been working diligently and passionately for the last two spring semesters to create the Harrisonburg 360 podcast – a digital project that elevates the stories of past and present immigrants in the Shenandoah Valley. The Spring 2021 season focuses on stories of local business owners and how they were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This podcast series is part of Immigrant Harrisonburg, a community based project based at JMU to investigate the lives of immigrants living in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. Read the story by JMU Libraries for a video and more information about the project.

Food & Community: Mapping Food Access, Food Justice, and Food Sovereignty photo of a garden

JMU students in Case Watkins’ Mapping Justice class researched and created the Food & Community mapping project which analyzes food access, food justice and food sovereignty in Harrisonburg. This comprehensive project includes community mapping, interactive maps, local initiatives and an explanation of key concepts related to food and equity.

photo of clothing displayA History of Women’s Rights at JMU

The 19th Amendment at JMU exhibit, which was on display near the historic entrance to Carrier Library, was the 6th in a series of exhibits of storytelling through women’s clothing by Pamela Johnson (a JMU professor in Theatre and Dance) and Julia Merkel (Preservation Officer for JMU Libraries Special Collections). You can now check out the virtual exhibit (including a timeline of women’s rights at JMU) on the Libraries website. Read the full story to learn more: Storytelling Through Clothing – A History of Women’s Rights at JMU.

Celebrating Lucy Simms and Black History in Harrisonburg photo of display in shool hallway

The Celebrating Simms project tells the story of the Lucy F. Simms School and the local teacher and community leader who inspired its name. The Celebrating Simms exhibit is now on display in all of the high schools in Rockingham County. The accompanying website includes not only a digital archive of photos, but also a map of notable places in the history of the Black community in Harrisonburg, a timeline of events, resources for teachers, and an online version of the Celebrating Simms exhibit. Read the full story.

photo of Jay-Anne JohnsonFirst Black Woman Graduate in Virginia with Biophysical Chemistry Degree

Jay-Anne Johnson is the first Black woman to graduate in Virginia with a biophysical chemistry degree, a degree unique to JMU. Jay-Anne also co-founded the JMU chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. Learn more about Jay-Anne’s JMU experience.

JMU’s Black Comic Book Collection photo of comic book covers

In 2015 and 2016, Brian Flota of JMU Libraries donated over 10,000 vintage comic books to JMU. These are housed in Special Collections–the arm of the Libraries that restores and handles the most rare, fragile, and valuable items. Since then, Flota has worked with Kate Morris in Special Collections and Professor Mollie Godfrey of the English Department to specifically develop the Libraries’ collection of vintage Black comic books, including those featuring Black superheroes and those created by Black authors and publishers. These are now being used in several different JMU classes to learn about Black representation in comics. Read the full story.

collage of photos Disability Studies 101

Disability Studies 100 is a collaboratively designed introduction to the Disability Studies minor, which centers an examination of disability as a valued form of diversity and offers meaningful insight into questions of access, inclusion, and equity.  As one DST 100 students notes, “The DST 100 course helps expand students’ dialogue and comprehension regarding the role of disabilities studies in diversity and inclusion because the way the class is set up makes it extremely enjoyable to have these conversations [. . . ] that open my mind to different ideas and ways of thinking that only help further my knowledge on the topic. This whole experience is positive.”  For more information about the Disability Studies minor, please access the Disability Studies Minor website.

Climate Survey on the Horizon logo with Speak up Dukes wording

The Climate Study Working Group is working closely with Rankin and Associates Consulting in preparation for the Fall 2021 rollout of the campus wide climate survey. All faculty, staff and students will be invited to participate in the survey, and its results will enable JMU to develop programs and policies that increase inclusivity in areas which are shown to be problematic as well as enhance and replicate programs and policies in areas that successfully meet the needs of the community.

Spotlighting Student Focused Events

CMSS Relocating to Student Success Centercmss-logo.jpg

This summer, the Center for Multicultural Student Services will relocate from The Union to the Student Success Center. The move is intended to increase CMSS’ visibility and underscore JMU’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as part of the Madison Experience. Read more about the move.

Lets get DEEP logoLet’s Get DEEP: DEI Podcast

SOGIE and the CMSS D.E.E.P. Impact Educators collaborated to launch the JMU DEI podcast, Let’s Get DEEP. There are six episode out that can be found on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Trans at JMU Resource Guide SOGIE-01.jpg

Check out the new Trans @ JMU webpage launched by SOGIE this spring. This resource guide contains helpful information in three groupings: Healthcare and Wellness, Being Yourself at JMU, and Rights and Protections.

Broadening Your Horizons: DEI in Re-View

DEI in Re-View, literally

Just in case you missed it, below is a collection of spring diversity, equity and inclusion related events that were recorded for asynchronous viewing. 

Madison Vision Series logo for Madison Vision Series

Madison Vision Series honors James Madison's conviction that cultivating an informed and educated citizenry is essential to the health of our republican democracy. The series brings scholars, thinkers and leaders of all kinds to campus for lively explorations of issues facing our society.

Black alumni discuss challenges, opportunities on road to success – A panel discussion with Black JMU alumni, highlighting the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion, both in higher education and in the workplace.

JMU and NSU co-host the examination of the rewriting Virginia’s Constitution - Guest speakers A.E. Dick Howard, the Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor of International Law at the University of Virginia, and retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan discuss the 1971 rewriting of Virginia's Constitution.

logo for CoB speaker seriesCollege of Business Diversity Council – Speaker Series

The College of Business Diversity Council is proud to be the organizer and host of a speaker series which began in early 2021. This monthly event featured panelists and speakers who brought a wealth of experience to a range of topics that all shared one theme: the reasons for and avenues to creating a healthy, productive and diverse workplace. Topics include:

Creating a Culture of Belonging

Recognizing Implicit Bias and Responding to Macroaggressions

Becoming an Ally in the Fight against Racism

Intersectionality and a Culture of Belonging

Diversity Conference Keynote 2021 Diversity Conference logo

2021 JMU Diversity Conference Core Session included a keynote address with Dr. Janice Underwood, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for the Commonwealth of Virginia

logo for CAL eventCollege of Arts and Letters – Discussions on Diversity Series

The College of Arts and Letters DEI Director, Karina Kline-Gabel, was proud to host virtual discussions in an effort to include students, faculty and community in conversations that address racial equity. Topics included:

Bringing All Voices to the Table – A discussion with Virginia state leaders

Rising to the Call: - A discussion with campus leaders in response to recent initiatives on campus

The Afro-Latino/x Experience - A discussion on identity and heritage

Supporting LGBTQ+ Students Training and Inclusion Guide LGBTQ guide cover

SOGIE and CMSS hosted a training for faculty and staff on Supporting LGBTQ+ Students conducted by the Human Rights Campaign.

Additionally, the SOGIE Advisory Board collaborated to create the new LGBTQ+ Inclusion Guide for Faculty and Staff. This valuable university resource includes guidance on pronouns, how to respond if a student discloses to you, creating an inclusive environment, ways to be an ally, and additional campus resources.

photo of Bethany MillerForging Forward: DEI and Learning Outcomes

Bethany Miller of Macalester College presented Forging Forward: DEI and Learning Outcomes as part of the General Education Program. Resource and presentation notes are included in the link below. This presentation was coordinated by David Owusu-Ansah (Associate Provost for Diversity) and Meg Mulrooney (Associate Vice Provost). View recorded session.

Furious Flower Facebook Live Poetry Readings Furious Flower logo

Furious Flower Facebook Live spring readings included poets Tyree Daye, Taylor Johnson, Natasha Oladokun, Cortney Charleston, T’ai Freedom Ford and Keisha Gaye Anderson.

In Focus

Paying Attention and Acting Now photo of Hakseon Lee
Hakseon Lee
Department of Political Science and Leadership Council Member on the Task Force for Racial Equity

I have been teaching in the Department of Political Science at JMU since fall 2007. Currently I am an Associate Professor and will become a Full Professor this fall. I chose JMU because I have relatives and friends living in Northern Virginia and in Chapel Hill where I earned my Ph.D. degree (i.e., at UNC).

As an Asian American immigrant who came to the U.S. as a graduate student back in 1999, I believe I have multiple identities: a native Asian who understands East Asian cultures; a naturalized U.S. citizen who casts ballots in national and local elections; a member of racial minority groups in the U.S.; and an international scholar who teaches and researches on American political economy from both domestic and international perspectives.

Sometimes I have to deal with systemic or institutionalized biases against Asian American or immigrants, mainly from local residents in the area who have not interacted much with either Asian or people from outside of the U.S. Most biases/discriminations are subtle, but strong enough for me to question myself: Can I live happy and comfortable in this area?  

Our society was established by European settlers who committed a genocide against indigenous peoples of this continent. Then the settlers adopted the slavery system in which human rights violations/crimes against African Americans were institutionalized. Till the mid-1960s, Asians could not even apply for immigration into this society. All these painful historical events were based upon the white supremacist ideology, which in turn made our society systematically and institutionally racist. 

If American society sets values on human rights protection, racial equity/justice, and democracy, we cannot simply wish that everything would become better in the future. For example, the universal suffrage including female voting rights was achieved only after persistent demand for political reforms in the 1920s. Likewise for Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. We need to act now to change our racist culture and educate young generations the pivotal value of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society.

I want to encourage JMU community members to pay more attention to voices from ethnic/racial minorities. For example, how much and often they feel marginalized under the single race (i.e., white) dominated system and culture. Also, I urge JMU administrators and local government officials to more strongly condemn white supremacist domestic terrorism and racism which targets racial and ethnic minorities at JMU and local communities.  

photo of Amanda RandallSeeking Out Your People
Amanda A. Randall
Co-Director for the Virginia Department of Education's Region 5 Training and Technical Assistant Center at JMU

I am in my 11th year at JMU, and I chose to work here because the position allowed me to support educators and families to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities.  As the daughter of a father with a physical disability, I have always been passionate about seeing individuals with disabilities live "their best life."

Eleven years later, I stay at JMU because I have found a community of people dedicated to something larger than themselves and who genuinely care about humanity as a whole. Although I have always found my community outside of JMU, it wasn't until the past three years that I found Sisters in Session (SIS).  SIS is an organization dedicated to supporting African/Africana and Black descent women to navigate academic and higher education at JMU. This group has given me a sense of community on campus at JMU that I sought out for years. 

As a first-generation African American female who grew up in and out of poverty, I have always had this constant need to prove to others that I belong in certain spaces. As I get older and have surrounded myself with other African American professionals, I have recognized my worth.  I realize that not only do I belong in various spaces, but those groups are privileged to have me there and benefit from my knowledge.  Because of my journey, I also have a deep desire to help others—especially other young African American students who can't see a path to college.

Based on our Nation's current climate, I hope that JMU is serious about taking a stance on supporting current and potential students, faculty, and staff of color. I want to see JMU continuing to plan and implement actions that disrupt the deep seeds at this university that have oppressed the opportunities and voices of women and people of color. When the "trend" is long over, I want JMU to continue actively working for change.

To all of the early-career or faculty and staff here, don't get discouraged or overwhelmed here at JMU. JMU is an excellent university surrounded by a very loving community. Find your niche here on campus and reach out to people with who you want to connect. Don't work in isolation or silo yourself as there are so many great people here. You just might need to actively seek out your people.

photo of Daerenz LyonsAchieving a Greater Sense of Community
Daerenz Lyons (’21)
President, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Xi Delta Chapter and Vice President, NAACP JMU Chapter

I am a recent graduate of James Madison University’s Hospitality Management program, with a minor in General Business. I plan to attend Graduate School to obtain a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration, and one day establish my own non-profit organization that helps individuals in marginalized communities succeed. 

As a Black Male on campus, my community of those that looked like me was very small in comparison to the majority around us. That is why I chose to get involved with the Center for Multicultural Student Services early in my freshman year, so that I had access to a community of individuals that I could identify with and we could work towards common goals amongst our organizations. Though I was heavily involved in the Xi Delta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, the Inter-Cultural Greek Council, and the JMU Chapter of the NAACP, I was aware that my role within these organizations was to connect other students of similar backgrounds and advocate on behalf of the greater community that we were a part of. 

Within these positions I was able to build a network with other students, and was given the opportunity to work alongside my peers, as well as other administration to continue to push Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work forward on campus. This influenced me personally because in working with so many individuals all with different skill sets and knowledge bases, I was able to learn a lot from others but also impart some wisdom along the way. I am appreciative of the fact that we were able to work together to try and enact change, and it showed me that as long as you surround yourself with like-minded supportive individuals, anything is possible. 

My main hope for James Madison University, that can and should be applied to the Nation, is that as a collective we should be striving to achieve a greater sense of community on a daily basis. Creating that sense of community is going to be hard work, as it can only be done with the unification of all groups and identities, however it is something that will be very beneficial in pushing forward efforts to become a more equitable campus, and Nation. 

Though I have recently graduated, I still look forward to being able to help others succeed in their efforts to make James Madison feel more like home. If there is anything you ever need, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn at Daerenz Lyons for my contact information.

Task Force on Racial Equity Update

logo for the Task Force on Racial Equity

Learn more about the Task Force on Racial Equity in the latest update:

For a complete listing of the working groups and membership, please visit the Task Force on Racial Equity page.

To submit an idea for a recommendation email:

Diversity Champions: 2021 Award Recipients

Compass Award 2021 recipientsCompass Award Recipients

The Compass Award recognizes an individual or groups’ demonstrated outstanding contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion at JMU. The 2021 recipients are:

Visionary: M. Rockwell Parker, Department of Biology

Leader: Kevin J. White, Athletics

Advocate: Valerie Schoolcraft, Office of Disability Services

Catalyst: Charles May, Ole School Alumni

Student: Zenobia Lee-Nelson, Class of 2021

Career Achievement: B.J. Bryson, Department of Social Work

Woman of Distinction Award RecipientsWoman of Distinction award recipients 2021

The Woman of Distinction Award recognizes women who inspire us through their dedication and innovation, exemplary leadership and mentoring, and commitment to enhancing gender equity and inclusion at JMU. The 2021 recipients are:

Faculty: Besi Muhonja, AAAD Studies

AP Faculty: Valerie Schoolcraft, Office of Disability Services

Staff: Mary Walala, Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services

Doctoral Student: Tiffany Brutus, Leadership Studies

Graduate Student: Tammy Steele, Public Administration

Provost Diversity Curriculum Grant Recipients

Through these grants the Provost’s Faculty Diversity Council encourages faculty to talk about how curriculum can better showcase and support faculty interest in diversity, through revisions of existing courses, creation of new courses and research on diversity issues that pertain to curricular innovation. The 2021 Diversity Curriculum Grant recipients are:

Elizabeth Arnold and Laura Taalman – Math

Brycelyn Boardman – Chemistry

Anthony Teate – Intelligence Analysis

Dorothy Maddison and Don Rierson – Music

Zareen G. Rahman – Education

Erika Cavanaugh – English

Israa Alhassani – Arabic

We can—and must—be a beacon for our society and the world in which we model what it means to be a community that values civil discourse and debate based on facts, reason, evidence and education.

President Alger
January 8th, 2021

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, equity and inclusion at JMU.

Submit an event for upcoming editions.