File: Luke Awtry
Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant
The University of Vermont is losing one of its longest serving and most accomplished experts on social justice. Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant
, UVM’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, has accepted a job at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She starts the newly created position, as CMU’s vice provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion and chief diversity officer, on April 1.
Heading-Grant has been on the UVM campus since 1983, when she first arrived as an 18-year-old freshman, one of the university's only students of color at the time. A first-generation African American college student from Trenton, N.J., Heading-Grant went on to earn her doctoral degree at UVM before rising to one of the university’s highest administrative positions.
Though UVM remains more than 85 percent white, Heading-Grant is widely credited for making Vermont’s largest university more welcoming, accommodating and inclusive for people of color, the LGBTQ community and individuals with disabilities.
In an interview this week, Heading-Grant noted among her proudest achievements the creation, in 2018, of the Andrew Harris Commons. The Commons, comprised of five granite monuments situated between Howe Library and the Davis Center, “acknowledge a man we don’t even have a picture of — our first African American graduate.”
File: Luke Awtry
Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant at the University of Vermont's Andrew Harris Commons.
Heading-Grant also pointed to the work she’s done on creating or expanding UVM's five student-oriented identity centers: the Mosaic Center, for students of color; the Prism Center, for LGBTQ students; the Interfaith Center, for students of all religions; the Women's Center; and the Center for Cultural Pluralism.
Heading-Grant is perhaps best known in the state for the annual event she founded: the Blackboard Jungle Symposium. Borrowing its name from the 1955 film about an interracial inner-city school, Blackboard Jungle began as a professional development program for UVM faculty, but has since evolved to include UVM students and staff, as well as K-12 educators and other Vermont professionals.
In October, Vermont Women in Higher Education
created a new award in her honor. The Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant Award for Justice
is presented annually to a woman who’s demonstrated a commitment to “uplifting and empowering those from traditionally marginalized and underrepresented communities.”
Heading-Grant’s decision to leave UVM, she said, is “completely unrelated” to last month’s announcement of faculty layoffs and budget cuts
, which were prompted by an $8.6 million shortfall. “This is primarily about what Wanda needed and wanted,” she explained.
In a January 14 campus-wide email announcement of Heading-Grant’s departure, UVM President Suresh Garimella commended her ability to “build understanding and bring people together,” which he called “a gift to our community during these tumultuous times.
“In the wake of the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others,” Garimella wrote, “she has taught us that commitment to equality is a central value we should never compromise.”
Though “Magic Wanda” is moving on from UVM, Heading-Grant said she intends to remain active and supportive of racial justice and equity issues at UVM and in the Burlington community where her family will continue to reside.
“My heart does definitely bleed green and gold,” she said. “I will miss most the people, and I’m so very thankful that Burlington, Vermont has been a part of my journey.”