PULLMAN, Wash. — A local activist who laid the groundwork for a number of Palouse services and organizations dedicated to serving women and eliminating racial prejudice and homophobia was recognized by Washington State University’s Women’s Studies Department recently.
Elaine Zakarison received the Women’s Studies Alumni Award for 2002 at a ceremony held at the Koinonia House on the WSU campus. Throughout her lifetime, Zakarison has served the local and university communities and fought for women’s issues, racial justice, and eradicating poverty and homophobia.
She helped shepherd the creation of the WSU Women’s Resource Center and served as its first director in 1975. She was instrumental in starting the WSU Child Care Center in 1978, which offers services to faculty and students with children, and helped initiate the Women’s Studies Program at WSU the next year.
Zakarison is a Pullman native, who grew up in a large farming family on the Palouse. Her career began at age 17, when she joined the local YWCA because it was the only organization that seemed to be working on issues of “social significance.” At the time, the YWCA was active in promoting free speech, anti-McCarthyism and migrant farm worker issues, said Noel Sturgeon, chair of the Women’s Studies Department, during the award ceremony.
A summer spent at the historically black Howard University campus inspired her to join the 1963 March on Washington and to work in the South on voter registration during the Civil Rights Movement. When she returned to Pullman, she served as executive director of the YWCA. Under her leadership, the YWCA trained more than 50 students to lead racial justice workshops throughout the community. She also helped organize a boycott of the student union building because it served lettuce and grapes boycotted by the United Farm Works Union.
Other community and campus positions include serving as director of Supportive Service Programs for Student Affairs, in which she oversaw the Black, Native American and Chicano Counseling offices, the WSU Child Care Center, the Women’s Resource Center, the Office of Programs for Women, Disabled Student Services and the University Conduct Committee. She also traveled to New York to serve as director of the National Student Services for YWCA.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from WSU in 1954 and a master’s degree in counseling and human services from the University of Idaho in 1986.