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Torgersen outlines five campus-climate initiatives

By Jill Elswick

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 12 - November 13, 1997

At the open forum held in the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center Monday evening, President Paul Torgersen outlined five initiatives to improve campus climate for minorities and women at Virginia Tech. Approximately 200 people attended the address.
At the forefront of Torgersen's initiatives is the creation of a position at the vice-president level to address minority and campus-climate concerns. The officer in this position will report directly to the president. He or she will investigate, among other things, "the apparent inability of this institution, despite strong efforts, to build African-American enrollment beyond the 4.5-percent level," Torgersen said.
Torgersen described the new position "as advisory to me and to the other leaders and administrators on campus who are involved with campus-climate issues and minority concerns, including those of African Americans, women, the gay community, Asians, and other minority groups whether religious or secular." A major responsibility of the position will be to develop a five-year diversity/climate plan.
The second initiative is to make the vice president for student affairs responsible for "appointing and working with a representative committee to conduct a review and revision of student-life policies as they relate to behavior which is demeaning and hateful of others among us." Torgersen pledged to push boundaries--within legal parameters--to "advance a sense of community and good will that can be codified in student-life policy."
Torgersen's third initiative, to "put campus-climate issues and other issues of concern to potential freshman back into our summer-orientation programs," was applauded strongly.
The fourth initiative involves seeking scholarships and other funds for economically disadvantaged students so they will not be hurt by the personal-computer requirement for first-year students which takes effect in fall 1998.
The fifth initiative is a recommendation to the new vice president to form a student advisory council on campus climate. The council would be made up of representatives from minority student organizations.
The search to fill the vice-president position, Torgersen said, will begin immediately. Torgersen promised in the meantime to "put together a group of representative minority students who will meet with me next semester so I can be as informed as possible about their concerns."
Audience concerns included recruitment of and financial support (e.g., scholarships) for African Americans. Several audience members emphasized the need for long-term solutions. "Go further than forums," said Victor Price, president of the student NAACP, who read a letter to Torgersen calling for "concrete change." Audience members urged tolerance in discussing campus climate.
In addition to race issues, the audience also expressed concern regarding gender and sexual-orientation discrimination issues on campus.
Torgersen responded to questions by asking for specific information wherever it was available; for example, in regard to reports of racial intimidation in classrooms. Torgersen said he believed the five initiatives (see above) would effectively serve as the first steps in improving campus climate.
The full text of Torgersen's remarks is available on the Virginia Tech homepage at www.vt.edu.