Gov. Ralph Northam, the subject of racism allegations over a yearbook page in which one man appears in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb, has named the commonwealth’s first director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Dr. Janice Underwood, former director of Diversity Initiatives at Old Dominion University, will be assuming the position. According to a news release, her job will be to develop a framework to promote inclusive practices, implement a plan to address systemic inequities in government practices and take feedback from employees and stakeholders.
“I am deeply honored to serve the Commonwealth in this inaugural position,” Underwood said in a news release. “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. I am dedicated to working with Virginians to promote lasting, institutional change at all levels of state government, and I look forward to working closely with Governor Northam and the rest of his administration to make the Commonwealth more diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all who live here.”
Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for Northam, told The Center Square via email that Underwood’s salary will be comparable to other senior positions in the administration, but did not say what the specific number would be. In the coming weeks and months, more details about her and her team will be released, she said.
Northam said that the hiring is part of his effort to make the commonwealth more inclusive.
“I am committed to making Virginia more equitable and inclusive, and that starts with my administration and our state government,” Northam said in the news release. “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. I’m thrilled to welcome Dr. Underwood to our administration, and I look forward to having her as a partner in this important work.”
Officials pn both sides of the aisle demanded Northam resign earlier this year after a photo on his yearbook page was made public that depicted a man in blackface standing next to a man in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam initially apologized for the photo, but then claimed he was not in it. Northam resisted the calls for his resignation.