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WVU hosts State of Diversity address to kick off Diversity Week

Implicit bias, the act of casting racial dispersions on people whether you realize it or not, is hardly black and white.

That’s why Meshea Poore was an exclamation point when she stepped on the campus of Howard University as a freshman a few years back.

Make that, a question mark.

Poore, then a first-generation college student from Charleston’s West Side who had gone to Howard to major in political science, initially thought her classmates were having a little fun with the kid from the hills.

It didn’t take long before she realized they being serious.

They would come right out and ask: “There are actual black people in West Virginia?”
Poore couldn’t help but go for comedy in her response.

“Just my family. And we’re doing fine, thanks for asking.”

What box?

On Monday, Poore asked WVU students, faculty and staff to work together for the creation of a truly inclusive community at the state’s flagship university.

That was part of the job description 17 months ago, when Poore, an attorney and the first black woman to be named president of the West Virginia State Bar, joined the school in Morgantown.

Poore is now vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at WVU.

On Monday, she delivered the university’s first-ever State of Diversity address to launch the annual observances of Diversity Week on campus.

Events, which include discussions of citizenship and immigration, and women in sports, run through Saturday. Visit for a full schedule.

In the meantime on Monday, there was Poore and her question.

“Will you work with me?” she asked an audience at the WVU College of Law. “We’re a Mountaineer family.”

And family, she said, takes up for family.

“We must not be bystanders when we see hate, harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence or discrimination taking place,” the advocate said her address, which ran around 30 minutes.

“It is on each of us to stand up, and speak up, when we see harm being done to a fellow Mountaineer.”

That means establishing dialogue, she said. It means recognizing one’s own implicit biases.

“We must be brave enough to not just think outside of the box, but the remove the box completely, and with it, removing the limits of thought and burdens on boundaries.”

Skin in the game

Poore’s office is assembling a new team to take the initiative beyond Morgantown and WVU’s other campuses. Implicit bias training will be part of the outreach, she said.

A new website ( has also launched and will serve a resource for other trainings and initiatives, she said — including those all-important “conversation-starters” on the outreach topics of the day.

All of the above is going to take some work on a campus that is predominately white, Poore said.

According to the most recent demographic snapshot of WVU from Data USA, which went online through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology two years ago, the makeup of the school in Morgantown is 78.3% white, for both undergraduate and graduate students.

The school’s black population is 4.49% and 3.48% of it students claim two or more races as part of their heritage and ethnic identity.

Hispanic students make 3.46% of the student population and Asians students number 1.79%.

WVU’s American Indian and Alaska native population is at 0.13%.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders notch just 0.0667% of the student body.

The audience Poore was talking to at the law school for her address was mostly male and mainly white.

“I need your voice as much as you need mine,” she said.

Andrew Matus, a second-year law student, was part of the choir Poore was preaching to Monday.

He sees a career in public law, he said. He sees a career where he can give a legal voice to a person who might not have one otherwise.

“This is inspiring,” he said. “This is why I love the law.”

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