RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/AP) — Dr. Janice Underwood will join Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration as Virginia’s first-ever Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Northam announced Monday that Dr. Underwood, former Director of Diversity Initiatives at Old Dominion University will take on the senior-level position.
The position was announced in May after Northam’s office said the idea came from talking to community leaders throughout the state.
The former ODU administrator said she was interested in the job because of Governor Northam’s work to address equity issues, following the scandal around a photo in his college yearbook page that showed a man in blackface and another in a KKK robe.
“He hasn’t always gotten it right,” Dr. Underwood said. “But what I respect the most is that he’s willing to learn and do the work.”
Northam has largely rebounded since a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced in February and almost forced him from office.
The photo showed a person wearing blackface next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam initially said he was in the photo, and then denied it the next day, while acknowledging that he did wear blackface to a dance party that same year.
Almost all of Northam’s political allies initially pushed him to resign and the governor’s political career looked all-but dead. But Northam resisted calls to step down and instead said he wanted to try to help heal the state’s lingering racial wounds and devote the rest of his term to promoting racial equality.
“We have a unique opportunity to bring good from what happened to Virginia,” Northam said Monday.
Dr. Underwood earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Hampton Univerity. She completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from ODU.
“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,” Gov. Northam said.
In her new role, Dr. Underwood will help develop a sustainable framework for the continued promotion of inclusive practices across Virginia state government.
“I am deeply honored to serve the Commonwealth in this inaugural position,” Dr. Underwood said. “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.”
State officials said over 80 people applied for the job and 30 had final interviews.
Dr. Underwood starts her new position on Monday, Sept. 16.