The Interview USA
Virginia Tech
Chief Inclusion & Belonging Officer for Student Affairs

Anthony Scott

As the polarization of society intensifies, the need for open dialogue on college campuses has never been more important. This understanding is at the heart of the work done by Anthony Scott, Chief Inclusion & Belonging Officer for Student Affairs at Virginia Tech, who has been instrumental in bringing students together to discuss important issues, fostering greater participation and open discourse.

Anthony sat down with Charles Sin, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss issues ranging from developing cultural competency among students to bridging divides in a climate of political polarization.

Anthony's Journey

Charles: Let’s get started with a quick introduction to your current role and institution.

I serve as Chief Inclusion and Belonging Officer for Student Affairs at Virginia Tech. My role is to support the 10,000 students who live on campus, as well as the students who live off-site. 

Charles: I’d like to hear more about you. What brought you to the field of DEI — and how did you arrive in your current role?

I’ll try to make it as short as I can! I grew up with a father who served in World War Two. Life with him was often difficult, and he was angry about his situation in life. When he returned from the war, he expected to receive the same benefits every other soldier did — VA funding for a home, and the GI Bill to put him through school. But he was denied all that because of the color of his skin. So I understood racism from an early age — when I arrived at college, I met other students who benefited from the GI Bill through their parents, while I had to take out student loans. So when I went into the military, I was determined not to let the same thing happen to me. During my service, I discovered my great passion was people. It helped me understand how America works and how great it can be, but we still need to take a deep dive into our history and come to terms with it.

Charles: Recent guests have been discussing the need to advance cultural competency among students to create a welcoming environment for everyone. What initiatives have you been working on to this end?

To develop cultural competency, you need to understand that there are multiple cultures. Some students base their culture around race or religion, but I think there is a common American culture too. We’re facing issues such as racism and white supremacy, and those are problems that our culture has never really dealt with. Every time there is a contentious issue — for example, a police shooting in the news — those divisions get opened up again. Learning the academic element isn’t enough; we need to go beyond the jargon and have truly meaningful conversations. When students come to Virginia Tech, we try to help them embrace all of their identities so they can better understand themselves. 

Charles: You’ve been at Virginia Tech for almost ten years. How has the university’s approach to inclusion and belonging evolved?

Our progress mirrors developments in the wider field of DEI. In the 60s, it began as protectionist work — integrating people from marginalized communities into industry and the education system. But since then, we’ve developed an understanding that diversity and inclusion need to reach everyone. We’re not asking people to agree with everything we say — but we want everyone to come to the table, including people who come from the majoritized identities. We’re not just working in the backroom anymore with a few people; it’s happening all over campus, and everyone is getting involved. 

Charles: Our world is becoming increasingly divided. In this climate of political polarisation, how are you building bridges between students?

It’s important to put things in a proper historical context. If you want to have those challenging conversations, you need to understand how we got here in the first place. For example, if you want to understand racism in this country, then you need to go all the way back to the 1600s. Black people were in America before slavery, but that history gets forgotten. If students understand our past, then they can start to move forward to a better future. 

Charles: Freedom of speech has become a contentious issue on college campuses. Where should we draw the line?

We’re not having issues on campus, but we’ve been seeing a lot of challenges online. Some students have been creating videos that are insulting, racist, and sometimes even dangerous. In some cases, they are masking hate speech behind the veil of free expression. Sometimes, when things like this happen, students demand a response. But every action creates a reaction: if you impede someone’s First Amendment rights, then that precedent could later be used against you, too. 

Charles: Student safety is a huge concern for many universities, especially in light of recent social tensions. What’s your approach to addressing these concerns?

Students need to understand themselves and question their perspectives. Many people hold beliefs that might be racist or discriminatory without even realizing it. A lot of that comes from upbringing — they might have heard their parents repeat stereotypes about Black or Asian people. But those beliefs aren’t innate, and we must all interrogate our assumptions. The greatest benefit I can get from this work is seeing a student’s mind open up. Students can do the work better than me because they are the people that their peers trust and identify with, so I try to set them up with the tools they need to do it. 

Charles: Beyond the classroom, it can be difficult to get students engaged in DEI work. Where do you see students getting involved the most — and the least?

On our campus, we have a student group called Closing the Gap. It brings people together to create dialogue about the issues which matter to students. We’ve noticed that when students lead the effort, other students turn out in greater numbers because they feel they can speak openly without being judged. Some of the students who turn up don’t normally get involved in DEI issues — but when their peers are leading the conversation, it gives them the confidence to get involved. 

Additionally, we have restructured our residential housing model, to place greater emphasis on overall student well-being. DEIB is a priority in this model, and we provide many programs and other opportunities for students to engage in this work.

Charles: What’s your top tip for engaging students on DEI topics?

We need to show students what America can be. Students should understand the creation of America, how it has evolved, and how they can determine its future. They’re not just here to obtain a degree — but to discover how to lead.

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