"DA Discusses" is a video series where reporters speak with people on campus and the community who have influence over decisions that affect students.
Vice President for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Meshea Poore spoke with digital managing editor Patrick Orsagos about her "Let's Talk" video series, how to report claims of assault and the context behind awareness months.
Portions of the following interview have been edited for length and clarity.
Daily Athenaeum: I'm going to start really quick, but just so everyone knows my name is Patrick. I'm the digital managing editor at the Daily Athenaeum. And this evening, our guest is Vice President Meshea Poore. Vice President Poore, I'm going to tell our viewers a little bit about you before we get started.
DA: Vice President Poore is of course the vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion here at WVU for those who do not know much about Vice President Poore, she's an attorney who previously served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 2009 to 2014. Vice President Poore also campaigned for the U.S. House of Representatives for West Virginia's second congressional district in 2014.
DA: She's also served as an adjunct professor at West Virginia State University as a faculty member in residence at the center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University and has teaching privileges at the WVU College of Law. In 2017, she became the first African-American woman named president of the West Virginia State Bar since it was founded in 1947. Vice President Poore, thank you very much for taking some time on this Friday to talk with me.
Meshea Poore: Again, thank you for having me. So I'm very excited to be here and honored to be asked to start this off.
DA: So I wanted to begin talking a little bit about your "Let's Talk" series. It seems like it's a weekly video update on YouTube on the Division of Diversity Equity and Inclusion's YouTube page. It explores topics centered around helping members of the WVU community engage in a conversation related to various elements of diversity. I watched them last night and actually they were really well done. I really enjoyed them. I was wondering if you could explain to me your process on deciding which topics to cover and what you hope to achieve with those videos?
MP: Sure. First of all, I hope everyone will look at them. We have them on our website. We have them on our YouTube. We have them on our Instagram page, and so we would ask you to start following us if you don't follow us @diversitywvu, diversity.wvu.edu is out website. And our YouTube is linked to all those things that I just said. So let me just say one of the reasons why we started this effort was because we recognize and understand that sometimes it's just being able to have the conversation, hear the information gets us to be able to see each other differently, right?
MP: Having a comfortable way to have some sometimes difficult conversations, but necessary conversations. And so we want to do kind of a, 'let's talk about it,' right? Let's kind of break through some of the basic information we should be trying to kind of focus on so that we can get to the deep, deep conversation when we need to. Where we currently are is we're talking about things that we see as problems or whereas we've heard complaints about stuff that people want to hear talked about. And then what we're going to do is we're going to open up for people to say, we want you to talk about this.
MP: It's just another way to make sure we're not missing each other as we're dealing with our everyday lives. So it's two minutes. Mostly try to keep it at two minutes, very short, but really impactful messaging.
DA: I found the two minutes to be particularly effective too, you know, it's not too long, it's not too short. You really did a good job of getting the messages across in each one. So obviously, the month of February marks Black History Month and of course February is a time where you hope that everybody tries to educate themselves a little bit more and raise a little bit more awareness about the month. But there are 11 other months, so what advice would you give to students on how to educate themselves and raise awareness to different kinds of awareness months outside of that particular month?
MP: So let me just say to you, and if you go to the "Let's Talk" series, you'll see us kind of break down a little bit about the purpose of the awareness month. And so it kind of tells you the purpose of these months are really just to highlight the conversation. So you'll begin to think about them and understand different parts of our campus, our state, and our globe. Let's use Black history for an example, Black history is all of our history. It is our history and we should be listening and looking at that, just like we should be women's history month, LGBTQ Pride month. All of these things happen 365 days out of the year. It just happens to be highlighted in particular months. And so at the end of the day, it is our responsibility to kind of step up and make sure that we are on top of things that might impact how we go into the workplace, how we go into the classroom, how we engage with family.
MP: When we start looking for interviews and jobs, all of these types of things, begin to let your mind open up on things that might not look like your circle of friends. And if it doesn't look like your circle of friends, then maybe thinking about exposing yourself to a different, you know, a more wider type of friend group.
DA: On your website, I know there's a place, in the unfortunate event that a student finds themselves a victim of harassment or assault even, there's a place to report that issue on the website. I was wondering in simple terms, if you could kind of walk me through what some of that process looks like.
MP: My office does more than just diversity work. This is a part of diversity work too, when it comes to discrimination claims, sexual assault claims, harassment, stalking claims. We have a whole team of investigators that actually look into those types of cases. And so we recognize and understand that the world is not the world that we wish it would be, that people don't do these types of behaviors, but you would go to my website, the very first click is "File a complaint." Once you go to that link, it gives you detailed instructions on the form to complete. If you're the person that wants to report something, there's also an option for you to do anonymous reporting. So you can make a phone call to someone on my team, they're available to be reached 24 hours out of a day, seven days a week. If you are someone that's been assaulted and you feel like, you know, I really don't want to file a complaint, but I need to talk to someone, we connect you to resources across campus to Carruth Center and other resources to ensure that you are safe, that you recognize and understand that you are supported, and most importantly, that you can continue your education at West Virginia University.
DA: Of course that's the most important thing is making sure that students can get back into their routine. I was curious too, since so much has shifted into an online format since the start of the pandemic, have you seen any changes in numbers or the kinds of cases that have been coming into your office?
MP: So I will tell you that what we've seen and I think it's because people have been around each other so long or they've been more enclosed, confined situations, domestic battery cases have increased that goes to temperament and tone. That means that people need to make sure they're taking time to step away, out of the situation. I know we're kind of all in the house or are all in our dorms or are all in our homes, but I think that the more we train, more people become aware of maybe a situation that they're in is actually identified as a domestic assault or domestic battery.
MP: And the one thing I will say because we weren't on campus the way we would have been normally for the spring semester and the fall semester, those numbers of course were down more so than they have been in the past. But the reality for us is the work is still as important. It doesn't matter if it's a low number or high number, we still approach every case the same way, every situation, the same way. No matter if we're in the office or not, our team has been working diligently, have never missed a beat in regards to making sure they hear complaints, resource people for whatever services that they need and ensure that again, we help you get back to whatever form of life you possibly could have had before, whatever the situation was.
DA: So outside of the "Let's Talk" series can you tell me a little bit more about any other upcoming events that the office is having this semester that you're looking forward to?
MP: We'll be working with the Statler College on the Katherine Johnson panel and what we're gonna be talking about there is resiliency, perseverance, an 'against all odds' type discussion.
MP: I know that there's some communication and culture change. The conversations are happening out there in the Reed College of Media. So there's a lot of different partners around the university that are doing great work in partnership with our office and also independently. And so what I would say to you is I know people can be 'zoomed out' because of classes, they can be 'zoomed out' because of meetings, I get it. But this is the best way to truly make sure that you're engaged and that you're still getting educated. It may be outside of your area of degree, it may not be in your major or even in your minor, but you're always a global ambassador of education and learning. And so what I would ask people to do, and this is throughout the whole year, like you've talked about is make sure that you're including yourself in these types of conversations.
MP: So those are some of the things we're working on. And some of the things that we're a part of. But there are so many different partners across campus, the LGBTQ+ Center, the Center for Black Culture and Research, Health Sciences, having some stuff. There are so many different things. If you want it, you can find it here. You gotta look for it.
DA: I think I know what survey you're referring to from the Reed College of Media. I just took that this week. I thought it was really, really insightful. I've never really been asked to think about those kinds of questions that were in that survey.
MP: See, that's what we're supposed to do here. Right? We're always supposed to be expanding our brains and in our approaches to things. Not just in the books, but in life. Right? We're all growing. I'm still growing. No matter what my role is, what my responsibility is, we're all growing. We all have a responsibility to make sure that we're leaning and gleaning more ways in which we can grow as people. So I'm happy that you took it. I'm happy you engaged with it and I'm sure we'll have more continued conversations about stuff like that.
DA: And once again, just for some new people dropping in, I'm Patrick and I'm speaking with Vice President Meesha Poore of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at WVU.
DA: And Vice President Poore, one more question for you. So much has changed this year compared to other years. What, what do you miss the most about work pre-COVID to now?
MP: You know, I will tell you, I miss talking to students like you face-to-face, engaging with you and sitting down and kind of getting a chance to hear what you're dealing with, things that you think, how we're growing as a campus, how we can change as a campus, where we can close some gaps. I love hearing the stories of our students because you all will be the legacy of what makes West Virginia University be what we know it is.
MP: So we know that you won't all be here and stay in West Virginia, although we want you to, but we know that you'll go back to your hometowns. We know you'll go overseas, we know you'll do a lot of beautiful things, but that's the goal is just to hear what you envision yourself doing and then being able to see it become a reality is always beautiful to see.
DA: It is pretty unfortunate that we can't do these kinds of things in person, but we're lucky that we have a platform like Instagram, where we could do this and get your voice out there and get other voices out there as well.
MP: I appreciate you having me. And like you say, everything's an opportunity, right? The reality is we use what we have for now. We make sure we do it well. And what you're doing is a good job and I commend you and your team for structuring it in a way where people begin to get exposed to leaders that they may not have been able to have access to because maybe they're a freshman or whether they've never had a chance to touch base with them. And so you're taking a leadership role in using this platform to be able to make sure that message gets out. And so, I commend you for what you're doing.
DA: Thank you very much. We have a great team at the DA, we really do. Vice President Poore, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me on a Friday evening.
MP: It's been a pleasure to talk with you, Patrick. And again, anytime I'm happy to assist and be a part of anything you want to do.
DA: Thank you. Just as a reminder for all of those listening you can follow the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on Instagram @diversitywvu, and you can follow the DA on Twitter and Instagram @dailyathenaeum. You can catch up on the latest news at thedaonline.com. Vice President Poore, thank you, have a great rest of your day.