Dr. Dietra Trent to lead White House HBCU initiative

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 3/10/2022, 6 p.m.
President Biden has tapped a Virginia education veteran to work with and advocate for historically Black colleges and universities in …
Dr. Trent

President Biden has tapped a Virginia education veteran to work with and advocate for historically Black colleges and universities in the halls of government.

On the last day of Black History Month, former state Secretary of Education Dietra Y. Trent began her new role as executive director of the White House’s HBCU office.

The official name of the operation Dr. Trent leads is a tongue-twister: the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

As of 2020, there were 101 HBCUs that enrolled nearly 280,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“I’m incredibly honored and humbled to serve the Biden/Harris administration in this capacity,” Dr. Trent stated in a text to the Free Press as she began her first day.

Describing herself as a proud graduate of Hampton University, one of Virginia’s five private and public HBCUs, “I have spent many years working to advance the mission and elevate the status of these great institutions,” she stated.

A native of Halifax County, Dr. Trent stated that HBCUs “have a proud legacy.”

Noting that HBCUs were founded when other institutions refused to accept Black students, she stated they have “fostered academic excellence and created pathways to opportunity. I look forward to spending the next few years advancing and promoting” HBCUs.

Dr. Trent served two stints totaling six years as deputy secretary of education. She was elevated to state secretary of education in 2016 by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe after Anne Holton stepped down to assist her husband, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, in his campaign for vice president.

As the top education official in Virginia, Dr. Trent fought, among other efforts, to spare HBCUs from budget cuts and pushed for state funding to boost their ability to offer need-based financial aid and create student success centers on their campuses to boost retention and graduation rates.

As state secretary, she worked to advance Gov. McAuliffe’s agenda to end the Black-white achievement gap and strengthen student educational pathways to opportunities in technology and other growth areas.

Sen. Kaine applauded the appointment of Dr. Trent. Recalling her work as a deputy secretary of education while he was governor, he stated, “I know she will work just as hard for students across the nation as she has for students in Virginia.”

Dr. Trent most recently served as chief of staff to Ms. Holton during her tenure as interim president of George Mason University. Dr. Trent also served as George Mason’s interim vice president for compliance, diversity and ethics.

She went to George Mason after serving as senior director for equity research and training at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

Dr. Trent, who earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from VCU, also served in the administration of former Gov. Mark R. Warner, first as director of constituent services and then as director of the Council on Human Rights.

After serving as deputy secretary of education during Gov. Kaine’s administration, she served as deputy state director for now-U.S. Sen. Warner and is credited with helping to reinvigorate and secure financing and a partnership for the Minority Political Leadership Institute in the Wilder School.

During her career, she also has served briefly as a special assistant to the provost at Radford University and as interim director of international education at that school.

Dr. Trent began her career in education 25 years ago as VCU’s director of federal relations, spending the bulk of her time in Washington lobbying for the medical school and hospital.