WSU awarding two honorary doctoral degrees this spring

Closeups of Patricia Whitefoot and Carla Peperzak,
Patricia Whitefoot and Carla Peperzak

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University will award honorary doctoral degrees to two women whose actions and advocacy have made a lasting impact within and beyond the borders of the state.

Carla Peperzak — who risked her life helping Jews during Nazi occupation of the Netherlands — and Patricia Whitefoot — a lifelong champion of Native American culture and advocate for Indigenous women — will be honored at formal events later in the spring.

Peperzak and Whitefoot’s nominations were unanimously approved by members of the Washington State University Board of Regents during their Jan. 26 meeting.

Each year, members of the WSU community nominate candidates who are considered by the Honorary Doctoral Degree Committee. Just 21 people have received honorary doctorates from WSU, with the most recent being emeritus professors William Lipe and Ralph Yount in 2021.

Carla Peperzak

The daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother raised by a Jewish family, Peperzak was in high school when the Nazi’s invaded the Netherlands in 1940.

After her father secured papers identifying Peperzak as non-Jewish, she used her freedom to advance the Dutch resistance’s cause. A stolen German medical identity card and procured German nurse’s uniform proved invaluable in her efforts to secure hiding places for Jews, produce false ID cards, and distribute copies of underground newsletters detailing the successes of the Allied Forces, she told Washington State Magazine in 2020.

Peperzak kept her work as a Dutch resistance operative a secret for more than five decades, but has spent much of her time in recent years sharing her experiences in classrooms across Washington. That’s included talks with students enrolled in a World War II history class taught by WSU professor Raymond Sun, who nominated Peperzak for the award.

“Carla Peperzak’s unfathomable courage, lifelong determination and continuing generosity make her a role model and inspiration for our faculty, staff, students, and beyond, exemplifying the mission and strategic plan of Washington State University,” Erica Weintraub Austin, who chairs the honorary doctorate committee, told regents last month.

Patricia Whitefoot

For more than five decades, Whitefoot, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and Native Elder, has served as a visionary leader, advocate, teacher, and mentor for cultural preservation, tribal sovereignty, education, health, and human justice rights of Native peoples. Among those who’ve benefited from Whitefoot’s mentorship is her nominator, Zoe Higheagle Strong, vice provost for Native American Relations and Programs & Tribal Liaison to the President.

“Patsy not only mentored me on many nuances of Native education, but she also taught me the heart and humility behind the work,” Higheagle Strong said.

“[Patricia Whitefoot] has helped to protect indigenous women from violence, and has ensured previously unheard voices have been heard to great effect,” Austin said. “She has helped to shape and inspire curriculum, policy, opportunities for cultural engagement, and the arts. Ms. Whitefoot’s work has saved lives; it also has enriched lives and communities.”

In addition to serving on the university’s Native American Advisory Board and the Native American Health Sciences Tribal Advisory Board, Whitefoot was appointed by the Obama administration to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Council on Indian Education in 2009.

Her work on behalf of Native American education has taken her across the region and beyond, including serving as the state Supervisor of Indian Education for Washington. She is also an elder member of the “Iksiks Washana’lama” — or little swans — girls dance group, a Yakama Nation group that travels nationally spreading the message of healing and wellness while also advocating for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

More information about the upcoming Spring Commencement ceremonies is available online.

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