Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Standing Up for What is Right for 85 Years

Standing Up for What is Right for 85 Years

Amazing things can happen when people stand up and speak up for what is right.

One of the most powerful examples we can think of happened 85 years ago this week, right here in Lynchburg. On Nov. 25, 1935, nearly 1,000 people gathered on the campus of what was then Lynchburg College for an all-day Interfaith Conference. Dr. John T. Hundley, president of Lynchburg College at the time, took the lead in organizing this event to promote greater communication and understanding.

A rabbi, priest, and minister team known as the “Tolerance Trio” were the featured speakers of the day. They had been traveling the country together speaking out against rising anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism of the 1920s and 1930s. Think about that time period: the Ku Klux Klan was on the rise in the United States, Hitler was gaining power in Europe, and financial insecurity amplified fear and mistrust of those perceived to be “the other.” The Tolerance Trio spoke out against these forces, using values they learned from their three religious traditions.

In Lynchburg, the Tolerance Trio’s message was so powerful and impactful that audience members were inspired to share what they learned. Many came together to support the formation of the Virginia office of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), whose work evolved to become the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC). Over the past 85 years, the work of NCCJ and now VCIC has been an important force in advancing inclusion and equity across Virginia.

Today, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities is a leading organization helping schools, businesses, and communities achieve success by addressing prejudices, in all forms, in order to improve academic achievement, increase workplace productivity, and enhance local trust. Through workshops, retreats, and customized programs that raise knowledge, motivation, and skills, VCIC develops leaders who work together to achieve success throughout the Commonwealth. The organization serves public and independent schools, colleges and universities, businesses of all sizes and from all sectors, nonprofit organizations, municipalities, and community members.

VCIC’s programs make a meaningful difference. Locally, high school students who participated in VCIC’s Project Inclusion retreat have made presentations to their teachers on how to effectively address bullying. College students trained by VCIC have created campus organizations to promote more inclusive living and learning communities. Employees who participated in VCIC professional development sessions have implemented best-practices strategies to recruit more diverse workforces. And thanks to all of these actions, schools can show measurable decreases in discipline referrals and bullying, universities improve their retention rates, and workplaces are more productive and successful.

Similarly, the University of Lynchburg has fostered a deep commitment to inclusive excellence for more than 117 years. Since the University was founded in 1903 as a coeducational institution — very progressive for the time in Virginia — it has strived to be a place where community members are informed, open-minded, and attentive to diversity across the spectrum of differences. Equally important, through their mission, values, and strategic planning, the University of Lynchburg is on an innovative journey to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the heart of everything it does, in order for their students, staff, and faculty to feel welcomed, affirmed, respected, and included. This has been accomplished through forward-thinking institutional leadership.

University of Lynchburg has been on an upward trajectory in being the diversity, equity, and inclusion leader in Lynchburg. This trajectory is evident through a recent $52K grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, allowing them to execute the Home for Hornets Project, the development of their Courageous Conversation Series, and the naming of their first Vice President for Inclusive Excellence. And, just as the success of the NCCJ was based on a rabbi, a minister and a priest’s collaboration and commitment to creating an inclusive community, the same success is the result of dedicated and thoughtful students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and the community.

The unrest and division we have seen in 2020 remind us of the critical work yet to be done on campuses and in communities across our Commonwealth. While we have not yet reached the goal line, we acknowledge the important strides that have been made. Those gathered on that Monday in 1935 could have never known how powerful their legacy would be and how relevant their example would remain. They stood up for what they believed was right, they invested their time and resources, and they made a lasting difference for the Lynchburg community and across Virginia.

May each of us today learn from and continue to build upon their transformational example.

Alison Morrison-Shetlar is President of the University of Lynchburg. She may be reached at president@lynchburg.edu. Robert L. Canida, II is Vice President for Inclusive Excellence at the University of Lynchburg. He may be reached at canida_rl@lynchburg.edu. Jodi K. Gillette is Chair of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ Lynchburg Chapter. Jonathan C. Zur is President & CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. They may be reached at contact@inclusiveVA.org.

Alison Morrison-Shetlar is President of the University of Lynchburg. She may be reached at president@lynchburg.edu. Robert L. Canida, II is Vice President for Inclusive Excellence at the University of Lynchburg. He may be reached at canida_rl@lynchburg.edu. Jodi K. Gillette is Chair of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ Lynchburg Chapter. Jonathan C. Zur is President & CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. They may be reached at contact@inclusiveVA.org.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News

News Alert