Virginia’s first state official focused on diversity, equity and inclusion is hired

Janice Underwood, former director of diversity initiatives at Old Dominion University, will serve as Virginia’s first-ever director of diversity, equity and inclusion. (Office of the Governor)

A former Old Dominion University administrator will be Virginia’s first-ever director of diversity, equity and inclusion, the governor’s office announced Monday.

Janice Underwood, ODU’s former director of diversity initiatives, will be the first person to fill the position Gov. Ralph Northam created in May amid his pivot to addressing racial equity following his blackface scandal.

She will develop “a sustainable framework to promote inclusive practices across Virginia state government; implement a measurable, strategic plan to address systemic inequities in state government practices; and facilitate ways to turn feedback from state employees, external stakeholders and community leaders into concrete equity policy,” the governor’s office said in a news release.

“I am deeply honored to serve the commonwealth in this inaugural position,” Underwood said in a statement.

“As I embark on this role I will be relying on my many personal and professional experiences as a teacher, an educational researcher, a parent and wife and a diversity leader. I am dedicated to working with Virginians to promote lasting, institutional change at all levels of state government, and I look forward to working closely with Governor Northam and the rest of his administration to make the commonwealth more diverse, equitable and inclusive for all who live here.”

Underwood holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hampton University and earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Old Dominion University in 2015.

“Dr. Underwood’s background as an educator, leader and collaborator, as well as her experience promoting inclusive policies and directing a variety of diversity initiatives, make her the perfect person to fill this role,” Northam said. “I’m thrilled to welcome Dr. Underwood to our administration, and I look forward to having her as a partner in this important work.”

Underwood’s salary “will be commensurate with other senior positions in the administration,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky wrote in an email in response to a question about her pay and the budget for the position. “Details on her team will be finalized in the coming weeks and months.”

UPDATE: This post has been updated to add a response from the governor’s office about the salary and budget for the position. 

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Robert Zullo
Robert has been winning and losing awards as a reporter and editor for 13 years at weekly and daily newspapers, beginning at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., where he was a staff writer and managing editor. He spent five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He grew up in Miami, Fla., and central New Jersey. A former waiter, armored car guard and appliance deliveryman, he is a graduate of the College of William and Mary.