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Women of Color Luncheon


Prepared Remarks
October 1, 2014

It is wonderful to be here with so many people committed to our University’s ideals of inclusion and respect.

As a land-grant university, West Virginia University has a calling — to create opportunity for all.

I would like to thank David Fryson and his staff, who work hard every day to help all Mountaineers thrive. They have also been organizing a fun, thought-provoking Diversity Week lineup.

I would also like to thank the Council for Women’s Concerns for making this luncheon possible. The Council has sponsored this event from the very beginning as part of its mission to promote equality and empower women.

Please join me in thanking Chair Erica Bentley and all the people who donate their time to serve on the Council.

When I first returned as president in January, I had the honor of sitting next to Delegate Charlene Marshall at Governor Tomblin’s State of the State address.

Since then, I have come to know her as an outstanding role model, a great leader, and a passionate voice for those who are voiceless, including children, crime victims, and people with disabilities.

I have no doubt her talk today will be insightful and energizing. And since I am the only thing standing between you and that talk, I will try to be brief.

When I look around this room, it is hard for me to imagine what our university would be like without the talent, dynamism, and wisdom represented here.

For too long, however, racist and sexist attitudes barred many people from sharing their gifts with the world.

In the 1980s, during my first tenure as West Virginia University president, we were working hard to overcome past inequities.

That was the decade when such things as the Women’s Studies program, the Social Justice office, the Center for Black Culture and Research — and the Women of Color Luncheon — were born.

Returning to West Virginia University after three decades I see the impact of those programs all around me.

I see more creativity, energy, and innovation throughout our University, and I believe that having more women and people of color in leadership positions contributes to that vitality.

Having a more diverse faculty and student body makes our University stronger. The best mix of the best minds will produce the best outcomes.

Diversity is also important because we are preparing students to work in a global and inclusive marketplace, with men and women from all national, racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

Embracing differences in background and perspectives is a keystone for success in the 21st century.

We have come a long way, but like all universities, we still have room for improvement.

That is why fostering diversity and inclusion is one of the five goals — the heart, really — of our strategic plan.

Creating an environment where women can succeed is also very important to me personally.

I have spent my life surrounded by intelligent, accomplished women, so I never had any doubt about the contributions women can make.

My mother was an educator, my late wife Elizabeth was an accomplished faculty member and researcher, and my daughter Rebekah is a physician and professor who has held many leadership roles in public health policy. Women’s health is her specialty, and I am very proud of all the work she done to improve the health of Louisiana’s women and children.

I know my three granddaughters — Eloisa, Elizabeth and Eva — also have the potential to do great things.

That is why I am so glad that people like Charlene Marshall and all of you have worked to build a more just and equitable world.

I look forward to working with all of you to make sure every Mountaineer can succeed.