Like people of color across the nation, rising senior Taylor Sligh found herself struggling with the racial strife that marked 2020.
“The unrest the world witnessed left many people divided and conflicted,” she says, “and the divide made it increasingly difficult for people to empathize with each other, especially on campus.”
Although she appreciated what she described as impactful Lyceums offered by the University, Sligh suspects that those who most needed to attend didn’t, and the fact that the pandemic forced events online made it more difficult for students to truly connect.
That’s when she decided that student-led events designed to engage a larger population of Bulldogs were needed. So the communication major planned We Are Wingate, a weeklong celebration of diversity developed with input from more than a dozen organizations across campus. To pay for it, Sligh wrote a $7,210 grant proposal, the largest student-proposed grant to have ever been funded by Wingate’s Board of Visitors.
A group of dedicated friends of the University, the BOV solicits proposals each year and this year awarded $50,252 to eight projects.
In her proposal to the board, Sligh said she hoped that the We Are Wingate series would become “a fun way for students to learn about different cultural experiences and broaden their perspectives.” The series is set to kick off Sept. 13 with Student Stories, which will give students of diverse backgrounds a chance to speak about their experiences on campus and beyond. Sligh hopes the narratives spark dialogue during a planned Q&A segment. The next day’s event will be a “He Said, She Said” Family Feud Game Night aimed at helping participants learn how to respectfully disagree with one another, especially about controversial topics.
“There are a lot of opinions that people are black and white on; for example, either Republican or Democrat, with not a lot of middle ground,” Sligh says. “We called the game Family Feud, because at the end of the day, despite differences of opinion, we are still part of the Wingate family.”
On tap in the middle of We Are Wingate Week will be a Wellness Circle event. “Considering that the night before might have had heated discussion, this will be an opportunity for students to focus on their mental health and reflect on what they’ve learned, just to soak in everything,” Sligh explains.
She and her collaborators are still working on the format for that Thursday’s session, titled Microaggressions 101. They are hoping to find a way to help students understand the negative effects that their words and actions can have, whether or not it is what they intended.
The week will wrap up with a Friday fashion show and a luncheon on that Saturday.
“We’re trying to get every culture we can find on campus to represent themselves in the show in some way, whether it’s traditional clothing or a performance of dance or whatever,” Sligh says. She envisions the luncheon as a time for select faculty members and administrators to interact with leaders of Wingate’s multicultural student organizations.
“Sometimes students of different groups represented in University programs felt like the programs missed the mark in a way,” Sligh says. “This is an opportunity to speak to administration about both concerns and accomplishments on campus. It’s a chance for them to get to know us.”
Although Sligh is heading up the event, she says collaboration is key. She got help early on from T’kayhlia Cornish, a Wingate alum who serves as Sligh’s Sigma Gamma Rho mentor. Cornish encouraged her to move forward with the idea for the week and to talk to biology professor Erika Niland, who had been Cornish’s advisor.
“Dr. Niland helped me to make the ideas more concrete, and she empowered me to gather other student leaders, like Rania Badran with the Muslim Student Association, to get involved in the planning,” Sligh says.
Sligh’s two years of experience planning events for Sigma Gamma Rho helped her create the detailed budget she needed for the grant application.
“I tried to think about every detail we would need, even down to napkins for the events,” she says. “Then I went through and made rough estimates. I looked up costs and rounded up. And then I put it on an Excel sheet and made it pretty.”
The bulk of the budget is earmarked for student giveaways (T-shirts, water bottles, tote bags, etc.) and raffle prizes (an Apple watch, an Amazon Echo Show and a smart TV), keys to drawing participants. Two-thousand dollars will go to catering and a few hundred to the printing of promotional materials.
Sligh was a little surprised at the dollars needed to put on the events.
“I’m still new to adulting, so I didn’t realize everything cost that much,” she said with a laugh. But if the week accomplishes its goals – helping foster understanding, promoting ally-ship and developing a true One Dog campus environment – Sligh knows it will be well worth the price. That thought gave her confidence to submit her proposal to the Board of Visitors.
“The worst they could have said is ‘No,’” she says.
Now that the grant is confirmed, Sligh is developing mood boards for each event to share with others on her committee so detailed planning can begin. The group will also explore ways to measure the week’s success via incentivized polling.
“I hope it is impactful enough to make people want to continue it next year,” Sligh says. “I really want to survey to see if the week impacted students and their relationships in any way. That’s how I’ll know it has been a success.”
June 28, 2021
- Student Spotlight