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Northam Taps ODU Official As New Diversity, Equity Advisor

Dr. Janice Underwood was introduced Monday as the new director of diversity, equality and inclusion.
Dr. Janice Underwood was introduced Monday as the new director of diversity, equality and inclusion.   (Photo: Whittney Evans/VPM News)

Governor Northam announced Monday he’s hired Virginia’s first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, eight months after a blackface scandal that nearly ended his political career.

Northam picked Janice Underwood, the former Director of Diversity Initiatives at Old Dominion University, to promote inclusivity in state government and develop plans to address systemic inequities.  Because this is a new position, she’ll be taking feedback from state officials and community leaders on how to make Virginia more equitable and inclusive.

“The governor has made it clear that while I will report directly to him, I really serve the people of Virginia,” Underwood said Monday.

In February, the discovery of a racist photo on Northam’s medical school yearbook page led to calls for his resignation. He withstood those calls and pledged to win back the trust of Virginians. Northam said making Virginia more equitable and inclusive starts with his administration.

“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 in a statement.

Underwood said Monday Northam hasn’t always gotten it right, but she respects his willingness to learn. 

Roughly 80 candidates applied for the position and 30 were interviewed with cabinet secretaries and agency heads. The General Assembly must vote to codify Underwood’s new cabinet position.

Her first day is Monday, September 16.