DuPont grant to bolster diversity on campus

by Chuck Gordon

When Delicia Brockington arrived on the Wingate University campus for orientation in the summer of 2014, she wasn’t sure Wingate was where she belonged. Although she had a Black orientation leader, Brockington, an African American from a single-parent household, wasn’t finding many other people from her background.

“I just didn’t see anyone else like me, anyone with a similar story,” she says.

But Brockington stuck it out, ultimately taking on leadership roles in the Black Student Union and graduating in 2018 with a biology degree. Now a graduate assistant working in the Office of Residence Life and studying for an MBA, Brockington acknowledges that Wingate has taken major steps in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion over the past few years: The student body is more diverse, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council is up and running, and this fall Wingate opened Unity House, a multicultural center for students.

The University is poised to build on those efforts, thanks to a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. Over the next year, Wingate will spend $116,500 to create a more inclusive campus climate. The duPont fund is chipping in $73,000 of that amount.

The money will go toward eight initiatives covering three primary areas: hiring more minority faculty and staff members; training employees to overcome any unconscious bias they may have and to create a more inclusive campus culture; and providing more multicultural programming for students.

The goals of the projects are admirable. Over the next three years, Wingate plans to have accomplished the following:

  • Increase the number of students, faculty, and staff of color who indicate positive improvements and feelings of belonging on campus.
  • Decrease the number of bias incidents reported.
  • Increase first- to second-year retention for Black students by 5 percentage points (60% to 65%) for the 2021 freshman class and 2 more percentage points (to 67%) for the 2022 freshman class. (Wingate will also track retention and academic performance of other underrepresented minority groups.)
  • Increase the number of diverse candidates applying for positions and monitor the retention of diverse faculty and staff.

In 2017, Wingate welcomed the largest class of first-time students in its history – over 1,150. While the student body has grown, it’s makeup has changed as well. Thirty-five percent of Wingate students are low-income and qualify for a Pell Grant, up from 20% in 2010, and half are the first in their families to go to college. Additionally, students of color make up 34% of the undergraduate population. The institution has intentionally grown more diverse in recent years, with the student body now more ethnically diverse than many of North Carolina’s public universities and independent colleges.

The grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund is designed to help better support students from diverse backgrounds, so they’ll eventually obtain a degree from Wingate.

The front door and sign for the Unity House Multicultural Center

Thanks to money from the duPont Fund, faculty and staff members will be able to participate in various training opportunities and workshops facilitated by Campus Pride, the Racial Equity Institute, and others specializing in supporting and enhancing our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“Progress towards positive change takes both will and work,” says Amy Jackson, Wingate’s assistant vice president of foundation relations and development. “With an increasingly diverse student population at Wingate, this grant will allow us to break down barriers to student success and work to better support diversity, equity and inclusion as an integral part of our mission to develop educated, ethical and productive global citizens.”

That work has been going on for years but really ramped up in 2020, even as Covid-19 forced students off-campus in the spring. Over the summer, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council was formed, headed by CFO Craig Addison and newly named Provost Jeff Frederick. Also over the summer, Wingate Athletics named Marcus Kirkland the head of its newly formed Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

And in August Unity House opened, giving students from a wide variety of backgrounds a place to gather (while following social-distancing guidelines, of course). That space makes Brockington feel optimistic.

“I’m hopeful about it, with the progress that has been made so swiftly over the past two years, especially with the Unity House,” she says. “Something being said about it over the summer and then it appearing in the fall was a real big jaw-dropper for me.

“I enjoy watching the swift action. Although I know that change sometimes can be a lingering process, I was excited to see that.”

Oct. 9, 2020