History professor and alumnus Alexander Byrd will guide university diversity initiatives.

Alexander Byrd ’90 has been appointed Rice’s first vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion. President David Leebron and Provost Reginald DesRoches created the position in June as part of a plan of action aimed at improving the university and the broader community. 

Byrd will provide strategic leadership for diversity initiatives and help create one point of responsibility for all programs and efforts around diversity. This will include overseeing the design and development of a new Multicultural Center (MCC). The revamped MCC is a priority that will benefit from Byrd’s deep familiarity with Rice’s campus culture as an undergraduate, as a four-year resident associate at Baker College and as a five-year magister of Wiess College. 

Byrd said his newest role provides an opportunity to continue building upon his alma mater’s critical work in these areas. “My interest in the post is informed by an abiding respect for the mission of the university and the ways in which the fullest execution of that mission are increasingly dependent on our ability to productively speak to, harness and shape issues related to the human diversity of our nation and our world,” Byrd said, referring to the fact that Rice’s charter originally prohibited nonwhite students. Opened in 1912, the university did not admit Black students until 1964.

“Although the kinds of divisions, fears and hatreds that were so taken for granted at the founding of the university and that so fundamentally shaped its initial growth are no longer central tenets of American life, the university’s success is bound up like never before in assuring that present inequities rooted in that past are acknowledged and addressed,” he said.

Also vital, Byrd said, is purposely and deliberately working to build greater community across — and out of — the differences of sexuality, gender, class, race and region associated with past and present inequities. “Implicit, I think, in the description of the new vice provost position is the very necessary and compelling question, ‘How do we continue to address — and how do we best address — our founding error?’ A great many people across the university are deeply committed to thinking about and addressing that question,” he said. “I am excited to have the opportunity to assist and, where I can, guide them from this newly created post.”

Byrd’s current research is focused at the intersection of urban history and the history of education. In addition to being recognized by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation as one of 2020’s top 10 teachers in Texas, Byrd is also a four-time recipient of Rice’s George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching.