Recently, I had the honor of attending the dedication ceremony for Western’s newest residence hall, named for Alma Clark Glass, the first African American student to attend what was then known as Bellingham State Normal School in 1906.
It’s been said that we shape our buildings, and they in turn shape us. The pathway that passes through the length of Glass Hall is described as a “shared journey” for the residents who live there. Through its use of ramps and elevators, it makes the entire Ridgeway Complex area of campus universally accessible for the first time.
I think this is an apt metaphor for the shared journey that the WWU community is on with respect to advancing our goals for greater access, inclusion, equity, and justice. Dedicating this building to Alma Clark Glass reminds us of where we have been as an institution, and how the pathway for her and many students of color and other diverse identities has not always been shared.
Likewise, the stories in this edition underscore the importance of being with our students through every step on their journeys.
Val Thomas-Matson is the producer, host, and creative force behind “Look, Listen & Learn,” a TV series dedicated to bridging the opportunity gap for BIPOC children. Val describes herself as one of those kids who didn’t excel in school, but she was fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive community that refused to let her fail. But just as she approached graduation at Western in 1981, she learned that she was five credits shy of completing her degree. Val was lucky to have a job waiting for her, so it wasn’t until 1995 that she returned to Western and completed her degree in broadcast media studies. Today, we employ many more early intervention strategies to keep students like Val on track to graduation.
One of those strategies was devised a decade ago by Computer Science Professor Perry Fizzano and Math Professor David Hartenstine, who, with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, teamed up to start a scholarship program to boost the number of women taking math and computer science at WWU. The key to increasing participation and success has been creating learning communities among students who share interests, reinforcing their sense of belonging, confidence, and capability. Today, that program has expanded to include not just women, but other underrepresented groups as well.
These stories remind us that advancing inclusive success is not about simply providing equal access to the tools and support necessary for an individual’s successful journey. Inclusion is about being invited to share that journey with others who are invested in your success and know what it’s like to walk the same path. On a shared journey we take every step on our own, but our loads are lightened and hopes of success increased by seeing that we are not alone. My hope is that our shared journeys open our eyes to new realities and possibilities and that our students never travel their paths alone.