Virginia Tech Magazine
Feature -|- Fall 2006

A principled approach to transforming Tech
by Ray Plaza

On March 14, 2005, Virginia Tech made a bold and unprecedented commitment to diversity by adopting and signing the Principles of Community, a document that outlines practices fundamental to the university's ongoing efforts to increase access and inclusion for all members of its community. As Virginia Tech looks toward the second anniversary of the Principles of Community, it is important to reflect on the background of the document, the effect these principles have had on the university community, and the potential impact they may have on Virginia Tech's future.
Parade of Flags
Drafting a new approach

The need for a document that encompassed a campus-wide commitment to diversity arose after the March 10, 2003, meeting of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, during which the board, in a closed-door session held without university administrators, rescinded Tech's antidiscrimination clause regarding the protection of sexual orientation and race, as well as imposed restrictions on the types of speakers that could be brought to campus.

When the board's actions were made public, the campus community immediately mobilized to protest. While those actions were ultimately negated on April 6, 2003, conditions nonetheless called for exploration of the issues surrounding diversity and campus climate.

Virginia Tech Principles of Community

If you have been to campus or on the university's website, you may be familiar with the principles. From framed copies and postcards to bookmarks, posters, and other items, the Principles of Community are making a visible impact.

This summer, the university unveiled a video explaining the principles that can be viewed at

Virginia Tech is a public land-grant university, committed to teaching and learning, research, and outreach to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. Learning from the experiences that shape Virginia Tech as an institution, we acknowledge those aspects of our legacy that reflected bias and exclusion. Therefore, we adopt and practice the following principles as fundamental to our on-going efforts to increase access and inclusion and to create a community that nurtures learning and growth for all of its members:

We affirm the inherent dignity and value of every person and strive to maintain a climate for work and learning based on mutual respect and understanding.

We affirm the right of each person to express thoughts and opinions freely. We encourage open expression within a climate of civility, sensitivity, and mutual respect.

We affirm the value of human diversity because it enriches our lives and the university. We acknowledge and respect our differences while affirming our common humanity.

We reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination, including those based on age, color, disability, gender, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status. We take individual and collective responsibility for helping to eliminate bias and discrimination and for increasing our own understanding of these issues through education, training, and interaction with others.

We pledge our collective commitment to these principles in the spirit of the Virginia Tech motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

Signed by the Rector, Board of Visitors; President of Virginia Tech; Presidents of the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Student Government Association, Graduate Student Assembly, and Alumni Association; Chair of Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity.

As the university attempted to recover from the fallout of the board's initial actions, informal conversations about the need for an overarching university statement had already begun. During the summer of 2004, the board of visitors, under new leadership, asked the university to articulate its commitment to diversity. Discovering that other higher-education institutions had developed university-wide statements expressing a desire for an inclusive community, Virginia Tech administrators began developing the concept and framework for a statement that would articulate the university's commitment to diversity.

As this work progressed, the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity (CEOD) got involved and eventually became the home of the Principles of Community. By the end of the fall 2004 semester, a draft version of this statement had been created.

Early in the spring 2005 semester, the draft was sent to various constituent groups--the faculty and staff senates, CEOD, the Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Assembly, and the Alumni Association--for feedback, response, and endorsement. The draft was also shared publicly at the eighth annual Diversity Summit attended by nearly 300 individuals from all facets of the university community. Following the summit, the CEOD formally adopted a final version of the statement, which was approved by the constituent groups.

In turn, a resolution was prepared for the upcoming meeting of the board of visitors, and the Virginia Tech Principles of Community were officially adopted on March 14, 2005. Signees included Ben Davenport, then-rector of the board of visitors; Charles Steger, university president; Sam Easterling, faculty senate president; Sue Ellen Crocker, staff senate president; Sumeet Bagai, Student Government Association president; Myrna Callison and Yvette Pena, presidents of the Graduate Student Assembly; J. Kimble Reynolds Jr., Alumni Association president; and Ray Plaza, chair of the CEOD.

Upholding the principles

Although the adoption and signing of the Principles of Community were a defining moment for Virginia Tech, many questions were raised about how these practices would be upheld. In addition, an air of skepticism was present among some in the community who felt that the principles were merely a passing fad and that the document would not be taken seriously or even implemented. Overall, however, there was a genuine commitment to ensuring that the principles would become a viable document within the university.

The responsibility for developing strategies to support the principles was assigned to both the CEOD and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Subsequently, these groups have been engaged in a number of different projects focused on educating the university community about the Principles of Community and increasing their prominence, including:

• Developing the Guide for the Use, Application, and Promotion of the Principles of Community (available online through the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Resource Center for the Virginia Tech Principles of Community).
• Printing postcards and bookmarks featuring the principles.
• Making the principles a standard part of orientation programs, including New Student Orientation, Graduate Student Orientation, International Student Orientation, New Faculty Orientation, and New Employee Orientation.
• Translating the principles into Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili.
• Posting the principles in administrative offices, athletic venues, residence halls, dining halls, and other campus locations.
• Displaying the principles at other locations throughout the commonwealth, including Extension centers, commonwealth centers, and other Tech campuses, such as Northern Virginia and Richmond.
• Publishing Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community Within Student Organizations, a new guide proposed by Professor of English Carlos Evia and written by students in his technical writing class.
• Incorporating the principles into such university activities as the first annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations and the campus climate check-ups.
• Installing copies of the principles in the general-purpose academic classrooms in summer 2006 and throughout the 2006-07 school year.
• Creating the Safewatch program--generated by Student Affairs and the provost's office--to better respond to reports and concerns of violations of the principles.

These efforts and initiatives have undeniably made a difference, but the biggest impact has been the response from the university community. As the principles have become increasingly visible, the community has started to work toward a better understanding of what they truly mean. Significantly, he development of the principles and their increased prominence have advanced the dialogue about diversity, inclusion, and the importance of community, a critical exchange for the ongoing transformation of Virginia Tech.

Black Cultural Center

Creating community

The first anniversary of the signing of the Principles of Community generated a number of commemorations orchestrated by the CEOD and the Office of Multicultural Affairs throughout the university community:

• A new resource center for the Virginia Tech Principles of Community was posted online at
• A special set of three posters focusing on the principles was distributed across campus. All of the posters list the principles and each one highlights a different affirmation.
• Faculty and staff were encouraged to call attention to the anniversary in their classes and work areas, both on the day of the anniversary and throughout the semester.
• The presidents of the registered student organizations received a copy of Virginia Tech's Principles of Community Within Student Organizations.
• Limited edition t-shirts featuring the Principles of Community were designed and are now available through the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
• More than 30 books that focus on the message of nonviolence and peace as advocated by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were donated by the organization Victory Over Violence to Virginia Tech's University Libraries, where they are now available.

These combined efforts to promote the principles have seemingly already effected positive changes. Because the principles were designed to foster proactive conversations about diversity outside the classroom, to change the way that policies are made, and to create a better understanding between students and the administration, the campus atmosphere now includes conversation surrounding diversity, inclusion, and community.

Additionally, the Principles of Community have helped to redefine the importance of diversity and to reshape the conversation in terms of the need for community. As a Virginia Tech community, we have now identified a common set of expectations that are critical for sustaining the type of environment that is vital for the university. In many ways, the spirit and meaning of the Principles of Community are intertwined with the university motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

For more information on the Principles of Community and Virginia Tech's other diversity initiatives, go to:

Office of Multicultural Affairs:

Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity:

Resource Center for the Virginia Tech Principles of Community:

Moving forward

A 2005-06 snapshot of Virginia Tech students reveals a campus that was approximately 71.4 percent white, 5.1 percent black, 6.3 percent Asian, .2 percent Native American, 2.1 percent Hispanic/Latino, 7.2 percent international, and 7.5 marked as "unknown." The final 2006-07 numbers are not yet available, but a preliminary review reveals that they are relatively consistent with the 2005-06 statistics.

These numbers indicate that Virginia Tech still has a long way to go. Most importantly, if the university is to compete on a national level, the status quo must be upended, and as demographics continue to shift in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the United States, we will need to be prepared to meet these challenges.

Our ongoing work and the changing dialogue about diversity and inclusion make today an exciting time to be at Virginia Tech. We encourage you to learn more about the Principles of Community and to assist us in changing the face of Virginia Tech to invent a future of inclusion.

One year later

March 14, 2006, marked the one-year anniversary of the signing and adoption of the Virginia Tech Principles of Community. On this day, a number of the original signers were asked to reflect on what the principles have meant to them:

flags of nations Sam Easterling, professor of civil and environmental engineering:
"This anniversary serves as a constant reminder that we must be diligent and committed to fulfilling the objective of the principles. The expectations of all should be an open, inclusive, and civil environment. I was, and continue to be, proud to have been able to sign the principles on behalf of the faculty."

Sue Ellen Crocker, office manager for Career Services:
"To me, the Principles of Community are guidelines for what to do and what not to do. They exemplify ways that we should strive to act responsibly, but they also open up opportunities for others to understand and learn about one another. I was privileged and honored to be a signer of this great approach the university is taking."

Myrna Callison, former SGA president:
"By signing and implementing the Principles of Community, Virginia Tech displayed a commitment to emphasize the value and importance of diversity within the university community. This is a very important step for Virginia Tech as the university works toward a more inclusive atmosphere. It was very important for me, as a signer, to see Virginia Tech make that commitment to make changes."

Charles Steger, Virginia Tech president:
"At the time of the signing, I described the Principles of Community as another indication that Virginia Tech is completely unified in our commitment to a diverse and inclusive community. Every time the principles are read or referred to, it serves as a re-affirmation of our shared beliefs. These principles are things that we, together, hold dear and recognize as indispensable to maintaining a community of learning and discovery."

Ben Davenport, former rector of the board of visitors:
"The Principles of Community speak directly to the very reason that the university exists. They are central to our purpose. We must be about providing a means for personal growth and opportunities for all people. In a free society, the discovery and dissemination of knowledge is a primary means in developing the social fabric and the cooperative spirit required for stronger communities, including the community of nations."

Ray Plaza is the project specialist for diversity initiatives in the Office for Multicultural Affairs. He served as chair of the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity during the development of the Principles of Community and is one of the original signers.

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