First WSU Family Weekend this October

A family of five posing with Butch Cougar mascot and holding a WSU Cougars flag
A family posed for a picture with WSU mascot “Butch” during last October’s Dad of the Year Celebration. Recognizing family members will continue as part of Family Weekends.

To promote and practice inclusivity, Washington State University Pullman’s two visit weekends, traditionally known as Dad’s and Mom’s Weekends, will now be called WSU Family Weekends.

The first Family Weekend is scheduled for October 9-11, followed by the spring event April 9-11, 2021. The October Family Weekend will be mostly virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic and proceed even though WSU fall sports have been suspended.

This is not the first time WSU has changed the name of these visit weekends. Students organized Parent’s Weekends in the early 1970’s.

Inclusivity is who we are

Inclusivity is one of several priorities identified by a 15-member working group that the Division of Student Affairs established in 2019 to study ways the popular visit weekends can be enhanced. Group members include faculty, staff and students representing a broad range of departments and programs across campus.

According to Kari Sampson, assistant director for student experience and external relations, the group’s biggest concern is that the traditional names of Dad’s and Mom’s Weekend do not reflect the many non-traditional families that exist today. By changing the name, WSU is following a national trend to be more inclusive with its programs and events.

“For those students who don’t have a mother or a father, calling our visit weekends mom’s and dad’s weekend can be hurtful for them,” Sampson said.

Working group member Bryan Blair, deputy director and chief operating officer of WSU Athletics, said part of WSU’S charge as a land-grant institution is to make sure everyone feels welcome on campus.

“Inclusivity is part of who we are as a university and one of our core values in the athletic department,” Blair said. “Making sure all family members who go above and beyond for our students feel included and welcome is really important.”

Two of Sampson’s interns, who are non-native English speakers, shared how they often feel embarrassed that they need to translate for their family members and don’t feel included in the activities.

“They actually leave campus during these weekends to avoid having to deal with it,” Sampson said.

While the name has changed, Sampson emphasized that many of the key activities and events that participants have come to know will not change. Some may need to be modified or marketed differently to make sure everyone feels welcome and adapted to the current need for virtual delivery. There are still plans to recognize parents and supporters who have been central to a student’s success. Students will be able to submit nominations online and recognition will happen virtually this year.

Access and affordability

In line with the working group’s desire to increase inclusivity, event partners are being encouraged to make Family Weekends affordable so all families can participate.

Phillip Sinapati, ASWSU advisor in Student Involvement, works with many students whose families can’t afford the hotel and transportation costs associated with the traditional weekends. If they do participate, they are forced to choose between them.

Another factor prevalent among students in multicultural student organizations is they spend many hours during those weekends selling concessions at the sporting events and concerts to raise funds for their signature events such as the Hawaii Club’s Luau, Pacific Islander Club’s Exhibition and Filipino Club’s Culture Night, many of which take place during the visit weekends.

“Because of that, they don’t get to fully enjoy these weekends as much as other students do,” Sinapati said. “They are working to help provide the experience for other students and families.”

Partnerships and engagement

Another priority for the working group is to strengthen and build more partnerships both on and off campus. People are familiar with the athletic events and concerts but do not always know about the educational workshops, tours, and fairs.

“We want to work more closely with campus departments and local businesses to build a really awesome portfolio of activities for visitors to choose from,” Sampson said. Even without many of the in-person activities this year, the Pullman community is partnering with WSU to offer special coupons, performances and other virtual experiences.

All partners will be encouraged to list their events on the new Family Weekends website where students and family members will be able to view all the options available them.

The website may eventually allow participants to register for Family Weekends, making it possible for planners to track numbers, see which activities they attend, and assess their experiences.

Steeped in tradition

The First Mom’s Weekend was sponsored by the Women’s League of the State College of Washington (now WSU) in May of 1927. Two years later the Associated Women Students gained responsibility for it and in 1932, a Women’s Tea was added. For the 44th annual event in 1971, Mom’s and Dad’s Weekends were combined for the first time. It was called Parent’s Weekend and featured “Family Affair” as the theme. Mom of the Year and Dad of the Year finalists were included in the program. Some time later Parent’s Weekend was discontinued in favor of reestablishing Mom’s and Dad’s Weekends.

Jason Krump, director of communications for WSU’s Cougar Athletic Fund, researched the history of the Dad’s Weekend football game, which dates to 1930. On the first page of the Gameday program that year was a message by Randall Henry, president of the Associated Students, that stated:

“We hope that it will become a permanent annual event, a cherished tradition of the State College of Washington.”

The Cougars dominated Montana 61-0 that day. Organizers hoped 200 fathers would come for the weekend and were delighted when 400 made the trip. It was the final home game of the season for the Cougars, a season that ended with a berth to the Rose Bowl.

Ready for change

Given the long history of Mom and Dad’s Weekends and the many cherished memories students, parents and alumni have of them, the working group anticipates there will be some concern regarding the name change. At the same time, there has been growing support for the change in recent years.

An example from last April, when Mom’s Weekend was moved online due to the COVID pandemic, Daily Evergreen columnist Anthony Torchia wrote, “In fact, a common practice for many families, particularly during Dad’s Weekend, is to just bring the entire family to visit their student anyways, and this is the perfect reason to rebrand the weekend as a parent’s weekend.” He argued that having more people in town both weekends would also be a welcome boost to Pullman’s economy.

Sinapati said Student Involvement staff have been encouraging students to think about inclusivity in their work with student organizations. For example, at the beginning of club meetings group leaders often acknowledge the indigenous land WSU is on and remind students to be respectful of one another.

“If someone falters, participants display a heart sign as a reminder to be mindful of their language,” Sinapati said. “For these communities, I think they are ready to accept the new name of Family Weekend.”

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