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DEI programs see upswing in donor support

This spring WSU Tri-Cities and WSU Vancouver will host a La Bienvenida program for the first time due to a generous gift. Shown here are students and parents attending a La Bienvenida resource fair in 2019 (photo by Dean Hare, WSU Photo Services).

Nearly $800,000 in corporate and private support has been pledged in recent months to support signature programs that provide DEI training, student mentoring, study abroad opportunities, and student recruitment and retention efforts, according to Kari Sampson, director of development in the Division of Student Affairs.

The rise in donor support is helping many diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at Washington State University expand in scope and scale.

The support is critical to the mission of the university, which prioritizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice in its programs and strategic plan, said Ellen Taylor, vice president/vice chancellor of Student Affairs at WSU Pullman.

“It is exciting that we have alums and supporters of WSU asking how we can make sure students have equity and access, and that their experience at WSU is positive and engaging,” said Taylor. “We have creative and innovative programs in Student Affairs that address these areas that are getting donors’ attention.”  

Supporting signature programs

Most of the donors are WSU graduates. Sampson said the gifts are true testaments of the university’s Cougs helping Cougs culture. The supported programs include:

  • La Bienvenida – A New Coug Orientation program for Spanish-speaking students and families. A donation by Bob and Karen Felton is allowing the program to expand to WSU Tri-Cities and WSU Vancouver.
  • VIBES (Visionaries Inspiring Black Empowered Students), CASHE (Children of Aztlan Sharing Higher Education) and SHAPING (Shaping High School Asian Pacific Islanders for the Next Generation) – Student-led recruitment conferences designed to encourage high school students to go to college. Gifts from former WSU men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent (for VIBES) and Boeing (for all three conferences) are reducing the cost of attendance for participants and improving the overall experience for them.
  • Student mentoring programs in Multicultural Student Services, the Gender Expression/Identity and Sexual Orientation Resource Center, and the Access Center – Boeing’s gift included funds to expand student mentoring into all affinity centers.
  • First Gen Abroad Program – Many of the 35 WSU students heading to Rome and Seville, Spain, this month could not do so without scholarships funded by donors like Gary Schneidmiller and Chris Navan.
  • Social Justice Peer Educators – The program is able fill its new teaching space in Waller Hall with cutting-edge technology and provide its peer educators with professional development opportunities because of a donation by Laurie Johnson and Dawn Smith.

Feeling seen and heard

Every donor has their own reasons for supporting DEI programs, Taylor said, but they tend to center around the notion that everyone needs to feel seen and heard. The division’s signature programs are designed in some way around this principle.

When Kent stopped by VIBES with a team recruit and the recruit’s mother, they were thrilled to see WSU’s vibrant Black community brought to the forefront of the institution and hear WSU students speak about their university with great pride.

“I was surprised to see so many Black students in one place, most of whom have never stepped foot on a college campus before,” Kent said. “And I was so impressed with the passion displayed by the WSU students leading the program that I knew I wanted to do something that would enhance their roles as leaders.”

Navan said his own experience as a first-gen student studying abroad motivated him to contribute to the First Gen Abroad program.

“There’s a lot of growth and camaraderie that comes from studying abroad,” he said during an interview in March. “If I can give to someone from a similar background as me who may have decided not to go abroad because of limited financial opportunities, this is a good way for me to contribute and give that opportunity to someone in this program.”

“It is great for our peer educators to see that people outside of the university want to invest in the work they are doing to make this university a better place.”

Dion Crommarty, coordinator for the Office of Outreach and Education

“It is great for our peer educators to see that people outside of the university want to invest in the work they are doing to make this university a better place,” said Dion Crommarty, coordinator for the Office of Outreach and Education. “They are also investing in our peer educators’ futures.”

Student Affairs Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Kim Holapa said donor support impacts students exponentially, as it gives staff space to think creatively and lets students embrace the opportunities that would be more limited without it.

“More importantly, it allows us to support students in their multi-identity spaces,” she said. “It’s not just about academics or employment, it allows us to support and embrace students across the spectrum of their identities.”

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