Courtesy Photo

This month, Virginia Tech’s Vice President of Strategic Affairs/ Vice Provost Dr. Menah Pratt- Clarke visited Los Angeles when she was honored at this year’s GEM awards for her work in advancing diversity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Clarke received the organization’s Academic Leadership award, sort of hallmarking the third straight year VT is receiving the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award and its recent recognition as a 2018 Diversity Champion.

Founder of the Black College Institute VT, Clarke made it her mission to rise up to VT President Tim Sands’ challenge to “the institution to uphold its responsibility as  a land grant institution – founded in 1872 — to educate the citizens of the state, to provide education to those who often are often overlooked, those without wealth, those without opportunity, those without privilege, yet those with merit, promise, skills, and potential.”

“The Morrill Act of 1862 provided grants of land initially funded by the sale of land, often the home of Native Americans, for the establishment of education institutions focused primarily on agricultural and mechanic arts,” Clarke explains.

“The initial population envisioned for this opportunity was the ‘industrial and working classes’ — the White masses who were not wealthy – that is “poor Whites” who could not afford the luxury of private education.  We must not overlook the irony of the sale of the land of Native Americans, often worked and tilled by African-Americans, for the education of White Americans.

“African-Americans, still slaves, still less than human, still 3/5ths of a man (and not at all women) were not allowed to even read.  It wasn’t until almost 25 years later, that the second Morrill Act of 1890 established 17 predominantly African-American colleges and 30 American Indian colleges. Since neither the initial Morrill Act nor the second Morrill Act addressed the legalized racial segregation in Virginia, African-Americans and Native Americans have historically represented a handful of the total population at Virginia Tech…”

Today, said a VT spokesperson, the university’s diversity policy focuses on four underrepresented groups:

African American, Hispanic, and Native American populations;

  • Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics);
  • First-generation college students; and
  • Socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, also known as distance traveled.

The VT administration recognizes the changing world, and that’s why a focus on diversity is of importance, they said.

“Inclusive excellence will be key as we prepare our university for an increasingly global, interdependent world,” said administrators.

“We recognize that Virginia Tech will continue to evolve demographically in response to this changing world. Our institutional diversity and inclusive practices must change correspondingly”

Clarke joined VT in 2016.

Clarke has more than 20 years of administrative, academic, and legal experience in higher education. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, she had senior administrative positions and faculty positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Vanderbilt University. As a scholar-administrator, Clarke said she believes in the importance of praxis and using scholarship to inform and lead change in higher education.

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa with a major in English and minors in Philosophy and African-American Studies. She received her master’s degree in Literary Studies from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree in Sociology from Vanderbilt University. In addition, she earned her PhD in Sociology and her law degree from Vanderbilt University. While at Vanderbilt, she taught African-American Studies and English at Fisk University, and taught English and Public Speaking through American Baptist College’s program in the men’s and women’s maximum- and minimum-security prisons.

Clarke is licensed to practice law in Illinois and Tennessee. Her research interests include critical race studies, Black feminism, and critical race feminism, with a particular focus on issues of trans-disciplinary analysis of diversity issues in higher education. In addition to her first book, “Critical Race Feminism and Education: A Social Justice Model (2012)”, two other books, “Journeys of Social Justice: Women of Color Presidents in the Academy (Peter Lang, 2017)” and “Reflections on Race, Gender, and Culture in Cuba (Peter Lang, 2017)” were released last year.

Clarke is frequently invited to speak on issues of diversity and inclusion, race and social justice, equity, leadership, education, women and gender, and promoting a more just and inclusive society and “empowering the powerless,” she said.