An Update on WWU’s Commitment to Diversity
By Eli Haynal
After a social media incident in 2018 in which a group of students posed for a photo captioned “Wakanda forever” while wearing charcoal face masks, Walla Walla University realized that insensitivity and discrimination were major issues on campus, and committed to diversity education and reform.
As soon as students returned from the 2018 spring break, they were taught the history of racial discrimination and blackface through a series of CommUnity breakout sessions, and WWU executives began work on a long-term plan. The resulting document, “Our Commitment to Diversity,” laid out the changes as a two-year plan consisting of the following steps:
- Focus attention on modifications to curricular and co-curricular education that support diversity education, especially in our general studies program.
- Expand diversity education strategies and objectives for faculty and staff.
- Audit and revise our policies and procedures to remove any barriers to progress in diversity and to encourage cultural diversity.
- Identify feedback mechanisms for all members of our campus family.
- Enhance strategies to attract diverse students, faculty, and staff.
- Commit to a revised pattern of regular conversations and engagement with stakeholders on themes of diversity.
- Develop a diversity scorecard, which will help us visualize progress, and include this as part of an annual diversity report to the WWU Board of Trustees and the University’s stakeholders.
- Increase resources and staffing committed to diversity-linked events and roles. 
Pedrito Maynard-Reid, head of the WWU Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said that the University is somewhat behind on the original schedule. However, he also emphasized that fostering diversity is a continuous process, rather than a measurable goal. In particular, he mentioned that a plan is currently in the works to ensure that “every student who goes through Walla Walla will have to take a class where diversity is part of the curriculum.” 
The WWU Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been around since long before the 2018 incident. President McVay appointed Maynard-Reid head of the department in 2008, and for the past 12 years he has been working hard to enact change alongside a council of students and other faculty members. 
According to Maynard-Reid, his department’s work has included, “Encouraging affinity groups like the black club [Berean Fellowship], the Hispanic club [Hispanic Ministries], and the Asian club [Asian Pacific Islander Club]” since their creation.  These vibrant clubs offer unique cultural and worship opportunities for the University’s students.
More recently, COVID-19 changed all aspects of university life. When school went online at the end of last year, the diversity office provided aid to students whose economic status at home led to difficulties in class by mediating between these students and professors whose classes were causing the difficulties.  This new facet of the department’s mission is a prime example of adaptation to COVID-19, despite the many setbacks the virus has caused.
The killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests brought diversity to the forefront of the national consciousness. The Black Lives Matter movement has acted as a powerful voice for racial justice, and the WWU Office of Diversity has taken the opportunity to coordinate their message with the movement. 
“It makes it easier to talk about some of these issues because they have taken on national attention,” says Maynard-Reid. The Walla Walla BLM movement is led by a WWU student, and Maynard-Reid has taken on an advisory role with the organization in addition to his duties on campus. 
Maynard-Reid is also coordinating with his peers at other institutions. He takes part in diversity coalitions with both regional colleges and all Adventist institutions of higher education. 
Two years after the unfortunate incident, the original plan continues to guide the office of diversity and inclusion. In fact, the department is carrying out largely the same tasks as before the incident. However, the conversation is now more visible; we are acknowledging the need for change. In the end, diversity is a process, not a product.
- Walla Walla University. “Our Commitment to Diversity.” Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3k9XmVG.
- Interview with Pedrito Meynard-Reid, 11/3/2020.
Hello! The name at the top of this page might say “Elijah Haynal,” but if you ever meet me please call me Eli. I am a freshman at WWU this year majoring in Biology, Math, and Pre-Med, and in my free time I enjoy reading, thinking, and going places (although I sadly haven’t been able to do the last of these much this year). I hope you enjoy my articles and if you ever see me around campus I hope you’ll say hello!