Janice Underwood, Old Dominion University’s diversity director, was tapped Monday to play a similar role at the state level as Virginia’s first-ever director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the hire at a news conference Monday, seven months after the blackface scandal that rocked his administration and led to promises by Northam to focus his time in office on racial equity.

One of the promises was to tap an adviser who would work with Northam personally on diversity and equity policy issues. In hiring Underwood, Northam’s administration hopes the job will become a permanent Cabinet-level position sanctioned by the General Assembly.

Underwood has worked as ODU’s director of diversity initiatives for the past year, working to “create inclusive work and learning environments” at the university, and leading workshops on racial and cultural diversity. Prior to working in higher education, Underwood worked as a teacher for students with special needs.

“I am committed to making Virginia more equitable and inclusive, and that starts with my administration and our state government,” Northam said. “[Underwood’s] background as an educator, leader and collaborator, as well as her experience promoting inclusive policies and directing a variety of diversity initiatives, make her the perfect person to fill this role.”

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