Hannah Dow is an academic junior from Danville, Virginia, majoring in American Studies at the College of William and Mary. She is heavily involved in advocacy for the College’s First-Generation and/or Low-Income Student Organization and participates in other organizations that foster her love for music, calligraphy and community service.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Picture this: It’s almost time for lunch. Your phone buzzes — it’s a notification from Outlook. You glance at the subject line, which simply reads: “Henry Broaddus.” You don’t recognize that name, so either you swipe to delete the notification or tap to figure out what this is talking about. You find out that an administrator is leaving and that he will be replaced soon. You didn’t know the guy anyway, and you aren’t in charge of hiring the replacement, so this doesn’t concern you, right? *Message deleted.*
We might need to rethink how much the message in this email, sent by President Katherine Rowe on March 25 to students and faculty, involves us, the student body.
The email tells us that Henry Broaddus has served as the College of William and Mary’s vice president for strategic initiatives and public affairs for more than two decades. That sounds like a fancy title, but do you know what his job entailed?
If you really want to get the low-down on Broaddus’ job description, his bio on the Strategic Affairs and Public Affairs webpage says that he “oversees the offices of economic development and business innovation, enrollment (admission and financial aid), sustainability and university communications. He also leads university-wide projects related to entrepreneurial opportunities and operational efficiencies.”
Rowe’s email to the community omitted one important indicator of Broaddus’ influence on this campus: He is one of only five senior administrators whose authority is just one step below President Katherine Rowe and Provost Peggy Agouris on the hierarchical ladder of our administration. (In case you were wondering, the other four are currently Director of Athletics Brian Mann, Chief Operating Officer and COVID-19 Director Amy Sebring,Vice President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler and Vice President of University Advancement Matthew Lambert.)
Henry Broaddus answered to few people and his decisions carried considerable weight.
To be clear, this is not an article bashing the career of Broaddus. He dedicated a significant portion of his life to improving our college and the impact it has on our region — especially with sustainability efforts. Our college has benefitted from his innovation and will continue to do so as we implement his strategies long after he leaves his office at the end of May.
Instead, let’s talk about the potential the next person to fill this position will have for improving our college, especially in one particular (and narrow) aspect of the job description: demographics of enrollment.
Given a blatant lack of student racial and socioeconomic diversity on campus, this position opening brings a unique opportunity for the College to hire a replacement for Broaddus. For the first time in a long time, there is an opportunity to hire someone that is sensitive to increasing diversity on this campus by recruiting, admitting and enrolling more Pell Grant students, students of color, international students, non-legacy students and those of other generally underrepresented groups on campus.
Students of the College should care about who ends up filling this role because it will have a lasting impact on the future of our college’s demographics, legacy and campus culture. The two most important areas on which the next vice president of strategic initiatives and public affairs can immediately focus on are increasing socioeconomic and racial diversity on our campus.
One measure of socioeconomic diversity on campus is the percentage of students receiving a Pell Grant, which is a federal grant given to students who demonstrate a significant need for financial aid, as determined by students’ completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Currently, the share of students at the College who receive a Pell Grant is the lowest among all public universities in the nation and lower than all Ivy League schools. The College’s enrollment of Pell Grant students has stagnantly hovered at around 11%, roughly one-third of the national average (around 34%). The lack of Pell Grant students on campus highlights our college instituting a significant barrier to accessing quality education for students from low-income and working-class backgrounds.
When students from lower-income families do enroll at the College, they succeed. Despite having unspeakably low rates of enrollment for Pell Grant students, the College boasts the second-highest graduation rate for Pell Grant students in Virginia at 88%, with the highest being found at the University of Virginia.
Because it is known that we have the funding, resources and alumni network to make anything happen for any of our students, the College has the potential to serve as a catalyst for improving its students’ socioeconomic mobility. As it stands right now, our admissions arguably reflect the small-scale perpetuation of inequality in our society. Right now, the rich are enrolled and after they graduate, they get richer. The possibilities are endless for so many other groups of students, but how can they benefit if they’re not on our campus?
The lack of representation of students of color on campus is no secret to anyone who has ever heard of our school. Despite our location near Norfolk and Newport News, whose populations are both around 40% Black, we are comprised of only 6% Black students. Virginia’s population consists of around 20% Black residents. Why does a public, state-funded university not at least reflect the demographics of its home? What makes a university with national influence incapable of matching America’s demographics of being at least 14% Black?
If the College is planning on preparing its students for the global workforce, it must consider how its students can compete when they are accustomed to an environment that does not represent what the rest of the world looks and thinks like.
Rowe’s “From Acknowledgment to Action” statement from June 2020 laid out plans for “inclusive curriculum and classrooms,” but cultural competency courses do not constitute actual inclusion of students of color in our classrooms.
One of the elements of point 3.a. in Rowe’s Vision 2026 is: “Increase the diversity of W&M’s student body, faculty, and staff to deepen our skills and talents.” The administration has indicated that they acknowledge a need for change in terms of shifting our performative talks about diversity, equity and inclusion towards real action.
Now is arguably the first time the College will get a chance to prove its commitment to point 3.a. of Vision 2026. In putting together a search committee to replace Broaddus, our administration should appoint not only committee members who are sensitive to the dire need for increased diversity on this campus but also members who experienced the college process as first-generation students, students of color, international students, etc.
So, what can you do? We are stakeholders in this hiring process. Write letters to the administration expressing the qualities you think should be valued in selecting a search committee to find Broaddus’ replacement. I recommend that identity- and culture-based student organizations compile statements supporting and emphasizing the need for Broaddus’ replacement to work towards intentionally changing the demographics. Reach out to your favorite advisors and professors to see if they can recommend you to be placed on the student stakeholder group that will have a chance to meet with the finalists for the position.
In addition to making your voice heard in regards to the changes you want to see in enrollment strategy, encourage your parents, alumni friends and anyone you know to donate to the Center for Student Diversity in order to support the students from underrepresented backgrounds that are already on this campus. The CSD actively enhances diverse student experiences and fosters an inclusive, welcoming climate for our students.