Class of ’94 Inspired to Name Office of Inclusion and Engagement The 25th reunion committee chose to name the office, with a fundraising goal of $1 million, to help all W&L students thrive.
“We want all students to get the full W&L experience and to leave as global citizens. If our gift can help to accelerate the great strides W&L is making in this area, it will be a wonderful legacy for our class.”
~Todd Ezrine ’94
“I am enjoying reliving that moment,” said 25th reunion committee co-chair Betsy Pakenas ’94. “It was one of less than a handful of times when I have felt that there was some shift, some shared experience that could be the catalyst for something really powerful — for something that will make a difference.” Pakenas was describing the events that led her and the rest of the 25th reunion committee to select naming the Office of Inclusion and Engagement with a fundraising goal of $1 million as its reunion class project.
In September, the 25th reunion committee met on campus to plan the upcoming celebration. Among the university’s priorities presented as options for the class project were the Center for Academic Resources and Pedagogical Excellence (CARPE), scholarship support or naming the dean of career and professional development position. After hearing a presentation from President Will Dudley on the progress Washington and Lee has made in attracting students from a wide range of backgrounds, a completely organic conversation arose when committee member Maurice “Moe” Cole ’94 posed the question: “What is W&L doing to enhance and enrich the experience of all students in an inclusive and deliberate way?”
Cole shared that as a student of color, he felt marginalized and discriminated against on campus and in the Lexington community during his time at W&L. He described his relationship with the university as complicated and wanted to give a voice to others who may have felt the same way but had not had a chance to speak up about their experiences. The committee members were inspired to select a project that would directly address issues such as those Cole faced, allowing all students to thrive at W&L.
“I never imagined that any definitive action would arise from my musings,” Cole said. “It was one of the most human things I have experienced — not only did my classmates hear that although we all shared an experience, it manifested differently for some than others — they came together and said ‘How can we help? What can we do to enhance this shared space and enrich the W&L experience for all students?’” After the committee had articulated its interest, Tamara Futrell, dean for diversity, inclusion and engagement, spoke to the group about services offered through her office, as well as the next steps as a strategic-planning priority.
Futrell explained that the Office of Inclusion and Engagement serves as a resource for the entire campus community, encouraging everyone to connect with one another across varied backgrounds. The university plans to renovate the second floor of Elrod Commons so that the Office of Inclusion and Engagement can offer a centralized location at the heart of campus for all its services. Many student resources, such as the lending library and food pantry, lack dedicated space. The Class of 1994 gift will support current and future programming, such as the successful diversity and community-building education series for first-year students. It will also accommodate future staffing needs to best serve students.
The university’s mission encompasses preparing students for a global and diverse society, and limited diversity on campus is a challenge to achieving this objective. Through persistent dedication to building the highest quality educational community, W&L is working hard to ensure the most talented students from all backgrounds feel welcome and at home on campus. Futrell has worked for W&L for 16 years and noted that the demographics have changed considerably during that time and even more so since the Class of 1994 graduated. “This gift will allow us to do even more. We want all students at W&L to have equal opportunity to thrive here,” she said.
Todd Ezrine ’94, a 25th reunion committee member, acknowledged the bravery it took for Cole to speak up, and he helped facilitate a productive discussion about the class project during the committee meeting. “We want all students to get the full W&L experience and to leave as global citizens. If our gift can help to accelerate the great strides W&L is making in this area, it will be a wonderful legacy for our class,” he said.
Cole, like many of his classmates, is still overwhelmed by the turn of events. “If I played any part in this magnificent display of humanity and commitment to equity that is steeped in our love for our alma mater, I am humbled and ready to work,” he said.