Divided: Fox News and the pressures at JMU's top – The Breeze

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Updated: December 27, 2022 @ 1:26 am
The Breeze obtained the emails referenced in the article through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. 
This chart was included in one of the two slides in the roughly 25-minute training video, categorizing social identities.
In September, shortly after the incident, five professors sponsored a petition, demanding that JMU administration make several changes in regards to their response to the social justice training. 
SGA’s resolution demanding the training be reinstated. 

The Breeze obtained the emails referenced in the article through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. 
EDITOR’S NOTE: All reporting in this piece is based on a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Breeze for emails between and to top JMU officials in the week following the article posted by Fox News about a now-discontinued diversity training program offered by JMU.
All emails quoted are transcribed exactly (including all emphases) with only minor clarifications made — all marked in brackets. Names of non-JMU or -Fox News employees have been redacted by The Breeze to protect the privacy of the individuals and those related. 
All documents referenced in this story — as well as the original DEI training that’s since been removed — are published online by The Breeze. 
This story was reported by news editors Ashlyn Campbell and Kamryn Koch. The story’s reportage and assembly were directed and edited by editor-in-chief Jake Conley.
It took not even a day for the hammer to fall. 
Following a JMU diversity training picked up by Fox News, the university’s community brought war to the leadership in Alumnae Hall. For the university, that Fox News article meant several weeks of intense public relations backlash and a campaign to balance a line between diversity and appeasement.
The article, published Aug. 19, alleges that JMU was “training student employees to recognize that people who identify as male, straight, cisgender, or Christian are ‘oppressors’ that engage in the ‘systematic subjugation’ of other social groups.”
The training — led by Jessica Weed, coordinator of organization development in Student Activities and Involvement, and Jennifer Iwerks, the former assistant director for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) education and support — was posted as an unlisted YouTube video and has since been removed.
The training video for FROGs and OPAs was led by Jessica Weed, coordinator of organization development in Student Activities and Involvement, and Jennifer Iwerks, the former assistant director for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) education and support.
The approximately 25-minute video, titled “Social Justice: An Introduction,” covered topics including identity; power and oppression; inclusive strategies; and community goals. The video also included two slides containing a chart that split social identities into two categories: “privileged (agent)” and “oppressed (target).”
This chart was included in one of the two slides in the roughly 25-minute training video, categorizing social identities.
The Breeze’s reporting reveals for the first time what happened in the war room assembled by JMU’s leadership following requests for comment by Fox News; what the internal conversations looked like as the university scrambled to respond; and both the external and internal pressures the administration faced in the week after the publication of the Fox News article.
The saga begins Aug. 19, at 10:23 a.m., when Weed receives the first email from Fox News asking for a comment for the network’s story on the training. Fox News reporter Jessica Chasmar indicates in her email that Fox News obtained “some [First yeaR Orientation Guide (FROG)] training materials that teach about social justice and inclusion” and asks how students responded to the training.
FROGs are sophomores, juniors or seniors responsible for helping new students on campus transition to JMU.
Chasmar writes in her email to Weed that, “According to your presentation, oppression ‘targets’ include people below 30 years old or those who identify as atheist or agnostic, so I would also love some further clarification or understanding into how those groups are oppressed in today’s society.”
At 10:56 a.m., only 30 minutes after receiving Chasmar’s email, Weed forwards it to Brent Lewis, associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and Tim Miller, vice president for student affairs, pushing the issue up the chain of command.
One of the allegations contained in Chasmar’s email is that students who received the training were instructed not to share it with others. Weed writes to Lewis and Miller that nowhere was a statement to that idea included in the training, leaving her “unsure of what the [orientation team] sent along/verbiage.” It’s a theme that will get picked up in the coming days by JMU parents, alumni and other community members who email their concerns over the training — and the alleged secrecy around it — into the university’s administration.
Once the forwarded email lands in Miller’s inbox, the pinball begins moving by the moment. At 11:07 a.m., 10 minutes after receiving the forwarded email, Miller sends an email to Sarah Sunde, former director of orientation, and Casey Ouren, associate director of orientation, asking them to share the contents presented to FROGs in their entirety so he can respond to Chasmar’s inquiry. 
Minutes later, at 11:12 a.m., Weed brings Brandon Cheatham, coordinator for first-year student staff, into the conversation to provide insight as the individual who conducted in-person Social Justice and Inclusion Training with FROGs that morning. Cheatham responds 20 minutes later, saying that FROGs were asked to watch the video as homework and to reflect on it in a worksheet. According to Cheatham’s email, orientation staff “did not receive any comments or concerns from FROGs/[Orientation Peer Advisors (OPAs)] (in both the large and small group settings)” regarding the training video.
As the morning continues, input from various staffers continues to pour in. Iwerks says the training is based on academic scholarship, and Cheatham says the OPAs’ training to maintain trust with their constituents may have contributed to the idea of confidentiality with the training.
Shortly thereafter, Lewis sends Miller an email at 12:03 p.m. laying out the idea that because the training was, as Iwerks said, based heavily on academic scholarship — using words like “agent,” “target” and “border group” — the university may have accidentally gotten ahead of itself.
“It’s another one of those moments where we are trying to do good work but advancing past where we are as a campus,” Lewis writes in the email to Miller. “The training itself is sound and true, it’s just we went to advanced on adding new language which is where the complaint from Fox News is coming from.”
At 12:06 p.m., Mary-Hope Vass, the university’s executive director of communications and lead spokesperson, is looped in to help develop a response strategy.
Around 2 p.m., about 4 hours after Chasmar’s email to Weed and amid a slew of emails as the university attempts to form a response to Fox News, Vass passes a statement for the university along to Miller and Lewis for approval.
With Fox News’ reporters bearing down, JMU sticks to its guns and professes support for the training:
“This training was an opportunity for students, who work in the Office of Student Affairs. The training was held to help ensure that every student guide for freshmen orientation had the tools and understanding to work with incoming students, who might have a different background than their own.
“At JMU, we strive to create an inclusive and welcoming community for all students. We also seek feedback on the training to constantly work on improving how we communicate and train student staff members.”  
While Miller approves of the statement 10 minutes later, he recognizes the public relations precipice the university stands on. He writes, “I don’t think they will respond well no matter how we respond but this is fair and accurate from my understanding.”
Less than one hour later, the Fox News article goes live at 3:09 p.m. — with JMU’s statement included — and the storm begins. Following the publication of the Fox News article about the training, the condemnation comes swiftly. Responses from the community begin rolling in. 
At 3:48 p.m., under 45 minutes later, the Office of the President already starts receiving calls about the Fox News article’s allegations. By 4 p.m., other departments are also receiving calls. Sunde says in an email that the Orientation Office had received two phone calls related to the article. She asks who to direct concerns to if the response from Orientation wasn’t sufficient.
Two minutes later, Miller responds and offers the statement written by Vass as what JMU was responding with at the time. It’s 4:02 p.m., and the Fox News article has been live for less than an hour.
At 4:51 p.m., David Owusu-Ansah, associate provost for diversity and professor of history, sends an email to Heather Coltman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Cynthia Bauerle, interim vice provost for faculty and curriculum; and Rudy Molina, vice provost for student academic success and enrollment management — all now looped into what’s happening. 
Owusu-Ansah seems to recognize in his email that, as Miller said in an earlier email, no matter what the university says, it’ll face major fallout:
“OMG. If they are saying this, whoever gave it to Fox News must have taped the orientation information which can make it difficult to defend. This representation is not JMU! Our diversity efforts is very inclusive.”
Owusu-Ansah’s point seems to prove itself as more emails continue to roll into the university’s inboxes. 
Some of the respondents are supportive of JMU. The first email to the university from a parent comes in at 6:06 p.m., from the mother of a JMU sophomore, with the subject “Kudos to JMU on the Social Justice Training Video.” The parent says she’s aware that many other parents are upset over the Fox News article and suspects that the university has received “outraged” emails already. However, she expresses her approval for the training:
“In any case, I want to make sure you know that some parents applaud JMU for offering this training. I think the video is very well done and addresses issues that need to be discussed. The two young women who were the presenters were excellent; I hope they don’t face harassment for their work on it.”
The JMU parent says she thinks it’s “unfortunate” that Fox News “misrepresented” the training video and that JMU has to “deal with the fallout.” She closes the email saying she’s looking forward to helping her Duke move back onto campus in a few days.
However, not all the emails are friendly — many are heavily antagonistic, ratcheting up an angry public sentiment against the university. 
Two JMU parents with a son who entered JMU as a freshman in fall 2021 write in an email to the Office of the Dean of Students that “we are packing him off for 4 years of a state college education that I have been so proud to say he earned and today, disgusts me and my family to the point I want to unpack the car. Shame.”
In the email, subject-lined “Discrimination being taught at JMU,” the parents write:
“Both [Jessica, misidentified in the email as Jennifer] Weed and Jennifer Iwerks need to be immediately removed from their roles and any interactions that ‘educate’ students in a discriminatory way that makes my white, christian, male child a target for any reason.”
“YOU are a STATE institution and my tax dollars fund JMU and you have an obligation to educate, not racially discriminate/educate such teachings as critical race theory or any marxist ideology. If I could pull him out today, I would, and pay double to send him to High Point. We chose JMU because of the culture and environment but clearly we chose poorly. Any attempt to tell my son he is an oppressor or a result of white privledge will immediately be followed by a discrimination lawsuit.”
Internally, the university continues to explain itself and attempt to maintain a level of image management. An email from Donna Harper, the vice president for access and enrollment, is sent to the Board of Visitors (BoV) at 8:23 p.m.
The BoV is the governor-appointed governing body of JMU, with authority over university direction, fiscal policy and the appointment or removal of the president, among other powers. Harper’s email attempts to contextualize the day’s events and lay out what JMU’s response has been thus far by providing more information on the training, including who the training was for and why the training was implemented.
Harper writes to the Board, “student staff received this training to have a better understanding of incoming students and how many of their backgrounds, lived experiences and challenges look different from their own.”
In a seeming recognition of the communication difficulties surrounding the training, the email says the slides, if taken out of context, could be misunderstood. The intent of the training, however, as the email says, was “to spur conversation and reflection among students,” and that JMU will continue to evaluate the training. 
Following the email to the BoV, Board member Matthew Gray-Keeling sent an email to Miller saying he’d be “really mad if you weren’t training our orientation guides to be the most welcoming they can be to our new students.”
In response, Miller sends Gray-Keeling an email the next morning saying he appreciated his support and said it would help if “some Board members would say this to Jon and other Board members.”
Miller wrote in the email, “I am getting beat up pretty good about our work in this area and the FOX news story.” 
Externally, however, the emails continue to flood in. At 8:27 p.m., not even six hours after the Fox News article was published, a JMU parent who says she has a daughter who’s currently a senior at JMU writes to “express [her] deep concern and -quite frankly- disappointment with what occurred according to this article” in an email to Miller.
Though the JMU parent writes that, “I have spent some time learning about critical race theory, equity, and truly want to approach these topics with humility,” she continues, “what I saw was absolutely appalling.”
She states her point simply: “As a Christian, I feel like this is religious persecution. As an American (and athletic person), I don’t believe shaming any group is appropriate or helpful.”
Those first five hours were just the beginning. 
The next morning, Gloria Mast, the associate dean of students, writes an email to Carson Lonett, special assistant to Miller: The university is getting so many emails that she’s worried they’re starting to fall through the cracks and that all those emails aren’t getting answers.
Mast’s point rings true — the emails just keep coming, pressurizing the situation further. One individual who claims to have two children soon to attend college in Virginia emails the Office of the Dean of Students on Aug. 20, the day after the Fox News article was published: “Clearly this type of training is divisive and certainly doesn’t foster ‘inclusive and welcoming community’. Any training that further fuels hate between races should not be allowed or tolerated in public colleges that are funded by tax payers.”
Early that morning, a JMU student responds to an Office of Student Accountability & Restorative Practices (OSARP) email concerning the Student Handbook asking to not send them any more emails and that “​​JMU is a national embarrassment and I am not interested in being associated with it.” 
The email was forwarded to Vass by Robert Smith, associate director of the accountability board in OSARP, who said the email doesn’t mention the reason for the email but “we assume it is in reference to the Fox News article.” 
In an email to administration, an alumna says she’s disgusted with the training video and believes “JMU is headed in the wrong direction.” She says the training may cause students to be fearful of their peers because they fall into the category of “oppressor” and that this will divide the student body.
“I was taught to listen to what people had to say, and look beyond their physical appearance to get to know that person,” the alumna writes. “I thought our country had come so far in the way we’ve tried to follow the great Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision that we would be judged not by the color of our skin but the content of our character. The information that the administration is giving to their student employees preaches the exact opposite.”
Another alumnus writes an email to administration asking JMU to confirm or deny what Fox News alleged about the training in its article.
“I need to assess if my alma mater has actually sanctioned the bigoted, gross-generalizations, allegedly presented by staff coordinators Jessica Weed and Jennifer Iwerks, OR, if there is a malevolent conspiracy afoot to smear JMU’s good name,” he writes.
And one more alumnus responds with a plea: “Someone just showed me an article by Jessica Chasmar from Fox News. Please tell me that it is misreporting and/or way out of context.”
In an email from Bradley Newcomer, a JMU professor and the former Honors College dean, he recognizes the precarious nature of the moment — and the need to shore up the university’s internal defenses. He writes Aug. 20 to Coltman, referencing “diversity” elements in JMU curriculum:
“We are preparing an internal statement in case something ‘arises’ this year with any of our curricular components … Yesterday’s FOX news item just emphasized to us the importance of being ready in case we get pushback.”
For JMU, it would take an external statement — and one that garnered criticism of its own — to begin to attempt to answer the “pushback” Newcomer referenced in his email.
After a myriad of emails and phone calls over a period of not even 24 hours, JMU responds publicly Aug. 20 with an in-tandem written message from Alger and a video message from Miller. 
The video statement from Miller is both an apology for and revocation of the training — an attempt by the university to thread the needle of maintaining support for diversity measures while distancing itself from the training. For Alger’s part, he writes that JMU values and respects “individuals of all backgrounds” while recognizing that the conversations around DEI are “necessary,” yet “difficult and at times uncomfortable.”
Miller opens the video with a message speaking on diversity, saying, “It is important that we make JMU a place that is inclusive of all people and welcomes everyone to be Dukes,” and that, “I believe that privilege is a reality.”
But in the same two-minute video, he counterbalances the point, issuing both a university-level apology and a renouncement of the training.
“We have to continue to learn and ensure that when we teach about difference, we don’t also target or belittle any community or individual,” Miller says in the video. “I apologize for the impact [the training] has had on so many members of our community, and I will dedicate my efforts to make sure we learn from this experience.”
This comes in the video after the announcement only seconds prior that the training had been paused “based on the feedback [JMU] received.” Though Miller says the university “[appreciates] the voices [they’ve] heard recently,” those voices were often harshly critical and only occasionally supportive of a belief in positive change at JMU.
The video and message would draw their own line of critique, re-stoking the fire of which Fox News lit the flame. 
In the days following the publication of both the Fox News article and JMU’s video response from Miller, critique would continue to come from both outside the university and within its own ranks. And on top of criticism of the video, emails from those angry about the training continue to pour in unabated.
On the day Fox News published its article, some community members expressed their approval for the training but disagreed with the way JMU handled it. 
Dawn Miller, executive assistant in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, sent an email to Tim Miller and Vass on Aug. 23 that says an alumnus has called requesting to speak to Tim Miller. She says this alumnus supported the DEI training and was “disappointed that JMU sent out an apology so early.”
Another alumnus emailed Tim Miller to share his support and support from other alumni. The email said he was saddened by the pulling of the training and it was “​​a real disservice to our students and faculty” to stop the training. 
“As I’m sure you are aware, the path you and the University were on was going to cause some discomfort,” the email said. “As a society we need to power through that discomfort in the name of equality and justice. At the end of the day the University is trying to turn out the best citizens we can and I feel with this move we are really letting them down.” 
However, most of what the university hears is nothing short of antagonistic. Several parents addressed university leadership directly in their emails. A JMU parent of a current student says in an email to Tim Miller that she won’t tolerate “teaching race bias towards ANY race.” She also addresses his video response to the training, saying:
“In your more recent video you claim that you believe privilege is real. I would agree privilege is real, however it is not inherently due to skin color. This backwards, racist thinking will only divide, not improve our society and should not be taught in any organization; most especially one I am paying for my child to attend.”
Another JMU parent writes the following in an Aug. 22 email to Tim Miller:
“I will not spend a 100K plus per child to attend a college that believes on any level that race is the prism through which all aspects of American life are judged and, categorizing individuals into groups of oppressors and victims.”
One more JMU parent who says she’s the mother of a junior at JMU delivers her point simply in an email Aug. 26 to Mast and Mike Davis, executive advisor to President Alger, writing, “Why can’t this university just do what you’re paid to do… TEACH?” 
That parent writes the following to the Office of the Dean of Students: 
“It is obvious that JMU was going to continue to ‘educate’ its students / FROGS with the attached ‘oppression charts’ until it was leaked and you received negative feedback. Who in their right mind thinks that this type of training is appropriate? Do you not understand that the continual ‘teaching’ and dialogue does nothing but cause more division? And not to mention it is full of discrimination towards the so-called ‘privileged’!!!!!!!”
Following the email from this parent, Mast writes in an email to Tim Miller the same day, saying, “Tim, Please advise if I need to respond.”
Tim Miller, less than an hour later, gets back to her, succinctly: “Do not respond.”
Another JMU parent, who says in her email that she’s the mother of both a JMU graduate and a current sophomore, writes to Tim Miller on Aug. 26: “I am very upset to hear of the divisive, unfair and inaccurate DEI training that was put forth this semester. To tell these young adults that they are oppressors because of the color of their skin, their faith, their ancestry, their sex or if they have a thin or athletic build (are able bodied) is reprehensible.”
The parent echoes the fear that JMU may be keeping other training materials a secret from the public:
“I am delighted to hear that JMU has stopped this training. I fear stopping it may have been partly due to that fact that it was brought to light publicly. It makes me wonder what else this school is trying to teach my child.”
Parents weren’t the only ones with complaints. 
An alumnus writes in an email to Tim Miller on Aug. 22 that until he sees “a formal update that the person who made this training has been fired,” he would pull all monetary support from the university and pull his presence from career fairs. The alumnus — who labels the events around the DEI training an “absolute breakdown in leadership” — has spoken at JMU events such as Madithon and Relay for Life and has participated in networking events as a business owner. President Alger was copied on the email.
The message reads:
“Based on your clearly divisive, racist and Anti-Christian training video I just forced myself to watch, I am both an oppressor and oppressed,” the community member writes in his email to Tim Miller; he says his mother’s side is “white white” and his father’s side is Jewish. “Should I sleep with one eye open? Should I ask for reparations from myself? Should I hide all the knives in my house so the white man inside me doesn’t lash out one day at my olive skin?”
The alumnus continues, “We have made great strides towards freedom for all the past 100 years, and I refuse to give my money to people trying to take us 20 years in reverse with divisive rhetoric.”
A Harrisonburg resident emails Tim Miller on Aug. 25, suggesting the university “leave the students alone to form their own opinions without being brain washed.” 
The condemnation didn’t just come from the outside. Several members of JMU’s faculty loudly voiced their opinions on JMU’s handling of the blowback on the training in emails to Tim Miller and other leadership.
The morning of Aug. 21, the day after JMU posted Tim Miller’s video message, Kathryn Hobson, JMU professor in the School of Communication Studies, writes in an email to Tim Miller that she’s “deeply disappointed” by Tim Miller’s video response to the backlash,  saying that “an apology for hurting those people in positions of privilege is embarrassing for our university and shows the truth of WHITE FRAGILITY and WHITE SUPREMACY built into the fiber of JMU and running through the veins of the administration.”
Hobson writes to Tim Miller:
“You cannot have it all ways. You cannot say you support diversity and inclusion and then apologize when that is implemented … if you need resources or more information, I am happy to provide them, but not if they are going to be used to appease a right-wing majority again. I have never been more ashamed to be a Duke as I am after that disappointing video response.”
In an email sent Aug. 22, professor of philosophy Bill Knorpp asks Tim Miller to have a discussion with him about the training video and “related issues.” He says he’s thought about “JMU’s trajectory” for a few years and that he doubts anyone else has “pondered and fretted” about the issues more than he has.
“The video itself is obviously troubling—but I’m not in favor of making too much out of any one instance of what I believe to be a general phenomenon,” Knorpp writes. “I think this should be seen as one instance of an overall tendency that must be illuminated and publicly discussed.”
And Kara Kavanagh, an associate professor in the JMU College of Education — in an email Aug. 23 to College of Education Dean Mark L’Esperance, Coltman and several others — describes a severe disappointment in the choice by the university to, through Tim Miller’s video statement, issue a public apology for the training. In doing so, Kavanagh writes, JMU not only fails to support faculty teaching diversity-focused criteria but may even put a target on the backs of those faculty members.
Kavanagh writes to L’Esperance, Coltman and others:
“I’m writing to implore leadership and faculty representatives across the [College of Education] and JMU writ large to consider the tremendous negative impact of apologizing for the diversity-focused orientation training video. As a faculty member who has taught a Diversity, Equity, and Justice in Elementary course for 14 years here at JMU and at Georgia State University, I have never felt so unsupported to do the work that I was hired to do until I saw Tim Miller’s youtube apology.”
In September, shortly after the incident, five professors sponsored a petition, demanding that JMU administration “immediately restart DEI training, recognize the harm caused by the pause, and apologize for that harm. We also demand that JMU seek to retain our colleagues in Student Affairs who are leaving or considering departure as a result of the pause” (emphasis in original).
In September, shortly after the incident, five professors sponsored a petition, demanding that JMU administration make several changes in regards to their response to the social justice training. 
The petition — sponsored by Bethany Bryson, Megan Tracy, Rocky Parker and Dayna Henry — continues, saying:
“Many of our colleagues in Student Affairs have job descriptions largely or entirely devoted to DEI. The administration’s decision to put a pause on that work, therefore, leaves our DEI system gutted, untenable, and rendered moot. Staff are unable to do their jobs, student employees are untrained, and our students are unsupported” (emphasis in original).
Overarchingly, the petition describes harm the professors see as being caused by the move by the university to pause the training and, in doing so, “capitulating to outside forces working to thwart inclusion.”
In a final update, posted Nov. 11, the petition had 442 signatures from faculty and staff from all across the university. A previous update says that with 378 signatures, the petition was delivered to Alger, Coltman, Tim Miller and Lewis. That night, the petition says, Coltman called a meeting with the five sponsoring professors and Vice Provost Cynthia Bauerle, Lewis and Tim Miller. 
While “none of the demands in this letter” were met, the petition says, “we did learn and deliver information that can inform decisions going forward.”
The Breeze reached out to Hobson, Kavanagh and Knorpp. While Knorpp couldn’t provide a statement prior to deadline, he said in an email to The Breeze that he believed the training video should be available to the public. Hobson and Kavanagh didn’t respond to requests for comment before The Breeze’s deadline. This article will be updated online with their comments if or when The Breeze receives them.
And on top of the response from faculty, students themselves pushed back against the university.
On Aug. 23, JMU’s Black Leadership Coalition organized a unity march for Aug. 25 — called “We Are JMU Too” — from Hillside Field to the Quad. When addressing requests from students to reserve the spaces and responding to an email from Event Scheduling Coordinator Debra Miller, Lewis, the associate vice president for DEI, says the march was planned “in response to the Fox News article and the DEI Trainings.”
And two weeks later, the Student Government Association (SGA) voted to pass a resolution condemning JMU’s decision to pause the training and demanding that it be reinstated. The resolution reads,
“The Student Government Association condemns the decision to pause diversity training for the remaining student employees. We are disappointed that the University continues to undervalue and disregarded minority groups to appease the privileged majority. While the decision of our involved administrators cannot be undone, we acknowledge its indignity toward marginalized identities.
“Performative activism by members of the administration showing up at events while stalling action behind the scenes will no longer be tolerated. We hope that the voices of students who have asked for change on this campus will not only be heard but acted upon.”
SGA’s resolution demanding the training be reinstated. 
Fox News ​​Digital Production Assistant Angelica Stabile reached out to JMU at midnight Aug. 25 concerning a new follow-up article. At approximately 7 a.m., Vass forwarded the request to Tim Miller.
The article, posted at about 11:30 a.m., includes an interview with Juliana McGrath, chairwoman of JMU College Republicans, in which McGrath says the training would drive students apart. 
“I think diversity, equity and inclusion — we call it DEI training — is important, but I think the way that they went about it was just absolutely wrong,” McGrath said in the video. 
The article also quoted an anonymous orientation source, who said they were “appalled” by the training. The anonymous source and McGrath both expressed concern over the impact the training could have on freshman students at JMU, though the training was never implemented for freshmen.
Tim Miller’s response to Vass at 8:48 a.m., several hours before Fox News published the article, speaks to the turmoil that started six days before:
“They already did a video of the College Republicans president that they released this morning. I think if we say even more then it just keeps the story going but that’s just my opinion.”
Sept. 9, less than two weeks later, Iwerks sent an email, obtained by The Breeze, to colleagues announcing that she’d be leaving her position, effective Sept. 21 — just off one month to the day from the publication of the Fox News article.
In the days and weeks that followed the release of the Fox News article on the DEI training, Tim Miller and the rest of the JMU leadership faced a barrage of criticism that left them walking a tightrope between appeasing two parties: those calling for intensified DEI inclusion in rhetoric and curriculum, and those on the other spectrum calling for an end to what they see as harmful, divisive practices.
JMU also isn’t the only college that has experienced pushback concerning DEI initiatives from the media and surrounding community. 
North Central College, a private school in Naperville, Illinois, faced backlash after Breitbart, a right-wing news and commentary website, wrote an article about a student’s thoughts on mandatory diversity training at the school. The online version of the student newspaper reported that in the comments of the article, many people took issue with the required module. 
“So the communist brainwashing of our children is in full swing,” a comment read. 
Fox News posted an article in January concerning an “inclusive language guide” from The University of Washington’s Information Technology (IT) department. The article said the school “might be the newest member of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ club” because the website uses some of the language it advises to avoid. The spokesperson of the university said the guide was a “work in progress” and was meant to be used as a reference. 
The issue isn’t limited to universities, either. 
School boards across the country have seen resistance to initiatives involving diversity, including curricula that incorporate critical race theory. Parents in Indiana criticized DEI initiatives in schools saying that it was divisive, as reported by the Indy Star. Right in JMU’s backyard, the Rockingham County School Board has faced controversy over whether or not critical race theory is being taught in schools. 
JMU has made several efforts toward DEI since the Fox News controversy. In an email to The Breeze, Vass said the university received much feedback after the Fox News article, and JMU offers “a wide variety of educational programs and activities on this topic throughout the year.”
“University leaders met with external and internal constituents to listen and acknowledge the diverse perspectives and comments that were received in that instance,” Vass said in the email.
Racial equity and DEI updates have been provided by faculty members at each BoV meeting following August 2021. At September 2021’s BoV meeting, it was announced that, “with a strong record of focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” Melinda Wood was named associate vice president of access and enrollment management and director of admissions. 
At the same meeting, the Office of Research and Scholarship expanded its team to include Besi Muhonja as associate vice provost for scholarship, diversity, equity and inclusion.
During the September 2021 BoV meeting, JMU received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity — a magazine and website dedicated to diversity in higher education — for the second time in four years. 
According to INSIGHT Into Diversity’s website, the HEED award measures “an institution’s level of achievement and intensity of commitment in regard to broadening diversity and inclusion on campus through initiatives, programs, and outreach; student recruitment, retention, and completion; and hiring practices for faculty and staff.”
At the February 2022 BoV meeting, it was announced that the university was searching for a Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The position hasn’t been filled.
Several discussions about DEI have also been facilitated in departments and organizations across campus. Additionally, JMU’s 2020-21 anti-racist and anti-discrimination agenda outlines how the university has made changes in the past two years surrounding inclusivity efforts. 
These efforts include correcting practices, structures and policies that contribute to oppression; establishing DEI leaders; creating academic communities that recognize and celebrate intersectionalities among different identities; diversifying the curricula “to sustain inclusive excellence” and strategically allocating resources to “dismantle racist and discriminatory practices and presumptions and build structural support for equitable and inclusive practices.”
In her email, Vass said JMU has a “continuing commitment to advancing” the work on DEI, which “can often include difficult conversations.” In regard to further training, Vass said the university is focusing on equipping student employees with the knowledge to “create inclusive environments that are welcoming to all.”
In the week that followed the Fox News article, standing against open floodgates of criticism, JMU’s leadership — and Tim Miller, especially — stood on the tightrope between two polar opposite parties, doing its best to find balance.
Charlotte Matherly contributed to this report.
Contact Jake Conley at breezeeditor@gmail.com. Contact Ashlyn Campbell and Kamryn Koch at breezenews@gmail.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

UPDATE: Following publication of this article, JMU professor Bill Knorpp contacted The Breeze and asked that a statement from him be printed in response to the piece, in which he is quoted. His statement, in full, reads as follow:
“The video shows JMU ‘DEI’ staff misrepresenting radical-left political ideology as knowledge. This is indoctrination, the cardinal pedagogical sin. JMU faculty and administration alternately defended the indoctrination and covered it up; neither is excusable. DEI has evolved into a mechanism for politicizing universities by institutionalizing “social justice” dogma, in violation of the obligation to maintain institutional neutrality. This extremist ideology is known for suppressing free speech and inquiry via false accusations of bigotry against any who dare disagree. But it must be opposed if our universities are to reclaim their commitment to Jefferson’s ‘illimitable freedom of the human mind.'”

Senior biotechnology and independent scholars double major Simon Anderson is researching medical discrimination — specifically why Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer.

DEI leaders around JMU’s campus discussed the data found within the recently released 2021 factbook and the potential for growth in JMU’s diversity efforts. Staff writer Morgan Vuknic breaks down the findings of the research and shares the leaders’ thoughts.
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