RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Dr. Janice Underwood will join Northam’s administration as Virginia’s first-ever Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Governor 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.

As the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Underwood will be tasked with creating inclusive practices for state agency employees as well as looking at inequities in how state policies are implemented. 

Dr. Janice Underwood (Photo: ODU)

The former ODU administrator said she was interested in the job because of Governor Northam’s work to address equality issues, following the scandal around a photo in his college yearbook page that showed a man in blackface and another in a KKK robe.

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“In fact, one of the things that attracted me to this position was Gov. Northam’s unprecedented commitment to rebuilding the trust we have in him,” Dr. Underwood said. “He hasn’t always gotten it right. But what I respect the most is that he’s willing to learn and do the work.”

When asked by a reporter if this hire would have happened if the events in February did not take place, Gov. Northam said Virginians have a heightened awareness about equity issues. 

“There’s a higher level of awareness in Virginia right now,” Dr. Underwood added. “I have said all along, I have listened, I have learned a lot, and I have a lot more to learn,” Gov. Northam added. “The more I know the more I can do and the thing I have learned especially is that there are these inequities that exist in our society today.”

State officials said over 80 people applied for the job and 30 had final interviews.

The position is treated as if it were cabinet level. In order for the diversity director to become a permanent part of Virginia’s administration and government, the General Assembly would have to approve the position in Virginia code. 

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Dr. Underwood earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Hampton University. She completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Old Dominion University.

“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.

Dr. Underwood starts her new position on Monday, September 16. Her last day at ODU is Friday.