Dear CLAHS Colleagues:
Amid the hubbub of the construction outside my office, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 2021–2022 academic year. As I begin my third year at Virginia Tech, I am looking forward to interacting with the CLAHS community face to face as we reinstitute the college’s usual panoply of events, lectures, and performances.

I know the pandemic has created great challenges in your working and personal lives and while we must all remain vigilant about the virus, I am hopeful that this academic year will much more closely resemble those we knew prior to March 2020. I am very proud and grateful to report that 97 percent of CLAHS employees are now vaccinated — the highest percentage for any large senior management unit on campus.
As we navigate the latest stage of the pandemic, the college’s leadership team is keeping your school and department leaders informed about the university’s evolving guidance on COVID through a frequently shared and updated Google document. It contains important directives on mask use in public spaces, on-campus testing services, and the vaccine mandate for Virginia Tech employees that goes into effect on October 1. You can also find information on the university’s Ready Site.
We know that many of you remain deeply concerned about vulnerable family members, and the struggle to balance caregiving responsibilities and work is taking a cumulative, exhausting toll. Accordingly, we will continue to be flexible in regard to teleworking arrangements and requests for accommodations.
There is nonetheless much to celebrate. The college’s finances are strong, enabling us to make several strategic investments in improving facilities, expanding staff, and increasing support for research. Our new Academy of Transdisciplinary Studies is poised to make a monumental impact as 16 working groups are developing new majors and minors. Thanks to the heroic efforts of our IT team, the college has significantly strengthened its IT security.
The college is working hard to meet its commitment to serve a more diverse student body and to develop a more diverse faculty. We welcome Dr. Devair Jeffries-Lee as the inaugural assistant director for diversity and academic success. In this new role, Dr. Jeffries-Lee will support underrepresented and underserved students through programming, mentoring, community-building, and a robust partnership with SOAR, the university’s Student Opportunities & Achievement Resources Program. In her role as academic success coordinator, she will also mentor students in academic recovery within the college.
In 2020-2021, multiple departments made successful faculty hires through partnerships with the Office for Inclusion and Diversity. This academic year, the college will be running searches for faculty in Latinx Studies and Queer Studies in order to jumpstart the development of these minors, which will be housed in the Academy of Transdisciplinary Studies. An additional transdisciplinary minor in Equity and Social Justice is currently being developed as well. The college is also the academic partner for a new living-learning community for LGBTQ+ students and allies, to open in Fall 2022, and will launch a national search for the LLC’s program director this year.
These investments are vital at a time when the culture wars are raging and higher education is on the frontlines. Over the past several months, 28 state legislatures have made efforts to restrict teaching about racism in the nation’s past and present. As a historian of the modern United States, I know a complete and accurate understanding of history is essential to movements for equality. Moreover, the ranks of those teaching this history must include those who are oppressed and marginalized. Scholarly fields become more robust precisely to the extent that scholars of color, long denied full participation in the academy, reshape the terms of how knowledge is produced. The attacks on critical race theory are attacks on Black people and other people of color who insist on their right to write the American story, to create the tools to imagine and build a world without racism.
Our college is better because of this knowledge. We fulfill our mission to “educate students for change in this dynamic global society” when our curriculum reflects the knowledge produced by those who resist oppression. We fulfill our mission by having scholars of color who are producing that knowledge now and into the future. It’s my job to protect scholars who do this work and the academic mission that they and our students pursue daily. As we embark on a new school year under such fraught political, health, and environmental conditions, I remain firmly committed to defending academic freedom and to ensuring the academy reflects the glorious diversity of our nation.
Even in these challenging conditions, the university had its largest fundraising year yet with the college raising $1.87 million in new gifts and commitments from our generous alumni and friends. The number of alumni giving back is most notable. Our participation rate increased more than 4 percent, from 15.06 percent to 19.35 percent.
As we gear up for the university’s sesquicentennial, CLAHS activities and engagement efforts will be highlighted in February 2022. We anticipate a new alumni director joining us this fall while the communications team will be adding liaisons to assist departments and schools lift their messages through college and university platforms.
We’ll also be welcoming back our college alumni and dean’s roundtable boards for my first State of the College report followed by our college tailgate. I hope each of you will join me for this important review of CLAHS on Friday, October 8 at 3 p.m. in the Assembly Hall of the Holtzman Alumni Center.
We have enrolled nearly 5,000 students this fall. This includes about 800 graduate students and 4,000 undergraduates. The incoming class includes 1,000 new freshmen and transfer students who represent 31 states/territories, 7 countries, and nearly 500 high schools. Academically, they are the most competitive class admitted in the college’s history. Political science, criminology, and sports media and analytics are some of the most popular majors among applicants and students. The growth reflects strong increases in the percentage of underrepresented and underserved students too. In fact, the rate of growth for underrepresented minorities and underserved students outpaced the overall CLAHS enrollment increase since 2016.
Enrolling, retaining, and graduating students is especially important when many other liberal arts programs are declining across the country. Our retention and graduation rates are higher than the national averages and the average time to degree is shorter than four years. We believe this success reflects the value of liberal arts and human sciences at Virginia Tech and the intentional support we provide to position graduates for successful futures.
To elevate this strong commitment to student success, we have launched a phased rollout of a centralized college advising center. The unit will provide accessible, consistent, equitable, and student-centered advising to all CLAHS undergraduates. We are committed to removing barriers related to academic success and to developing strategies aimed at closing the gaps in retention and graduation rates for undeserved and underrepresented students.
We are also excited about the launching of seven new undergraduate majors. The School of Communication created an Advertising major. The Department of Political Science announced the European and Transatlantic Studies major. In Fall 2022, the School of Education will offer five undergraduate majors, including Career and Technical Education for Agriculture Education, Elementary Education, English Language Arts Education, History and Social Sciences Education, and Mathematics Education.
None of these accomplishments would be possible without you. I wish you the best of success as we begin the adventure of a new academic year — and I thank you for the hard work and dedication you give the CLAHS community each and every day.

Be well,

Laura Belmonte
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences