BOONE — Since Chancellor Sheri Everts took office at Appalachian State University in summer 2014, she has said it is a top priority that the campus work to increase its diversity among students and staff.
In 2015, the school’s freshman class was the most diverse in its history, with 15.2 percent from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups — a 3 percent increase from the previous year.
At the end of the spring semester, Everts sent a campuswide email addressing students and faculty on the status of her diversity priorities, as announced at the beginning of the academic year.
According to the email, the campus has since developed a bias incident reporting protocol, a mentoring program for minority students and a more holistic admissions review process. It is also providing admissions materials and campus tours in Spanish.
“I thank this community for joining me in working to ensure the protection of our diverse community and to value each individual within it,” Everts said.
The email also announced the addition of a new administrator — Willie Fleming, who will serve as the university’s chief diversity officer.
Fleming joins the university after working as a psychology professor at Gardner Webb University. He is an ASU alumnus and the university’s former director of multicultural affairs. He will work closely with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance, Student Affairs and Multicultural Student Development, as well as the Counseling Center.
Fleming’s role began on May 16 and he has just begun to assess campus needs, but he said he is encouraged by the chancellor’s priorities.
“I think we’ve had wonderful chancellors here, but as an alumnus, I never heard or saw the commitment to diversity as I have with this chancellor,” Fleming said.
Fleming said that while Appalachian has a long way to go, he has seen great strides since he was a student.
He graduated in 1980, and received his master’s from ASU in 1984 and was a founding member of organizations such as the Appalachian Gospel Choir, Black Student Association, and the Black Faculty and Staff Association.
He also helped bring back Black Greek Life to Appalachian and was a charter member of the Pi Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
“There were a lot of folks in administration who were very genuine and very kind, so the struggle was with very limited resources; we had to create a community within a community,” he said.
Fleming said racism is still a large problem on college campuses, but it has taken a different, less overt form.
“We as a community should be aware about microaggressions,” he said. “I think modern-day racism is much worse than old racism. I think modern-day racism is lethal.”
To help combat this problem, Fleming said he hopes to implement mandatory diversity training for all faculty, staff and students upon entering the university.
“(We need to) have those tough conversations on social justice issues, hold people accountable and continue to engage students,” Fleming said.
Fleming said his other goals include recruiting diverse faculty and staff who will model inclusion for students, denouncing and dismantling racism and creating a “zero tolerance policy” for bias incidents.
In the past couple of years, ASU students have held multiple protests on social justice issues. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and others sparked Black Lives Matter protests on campus, and more recently, students occupied the administration building for several days in protest of HB2.
Fleming said he applauds student activists, and hopes they will continue to share their voices.
“The worst thing a student can be is apathetic,” he said.
“I think our campus reflects national concerns. I’m glad that we’re honest enough to call it out and not try to hide our diversity concerns. I think some campuses stifle students.”
And diversity itself, Fleming said, is also a larger concern.
“The real world — the working world — our global community is diverse. It is imperative that we prepare out students for the real world.”