A welcoming environment

Kindness and compassion matter in higher education, but are rarely discussed or valued. At Wheaton, we see these as essential ingredients in supporting our students who are pushing themselves to explore new fields and activities, build new skills and capacities, and imagine themselves and their possible futures anew. Students, alums and families regularly cite our caring and welcoming community as something that sets us apart. This year, we are building on that capacity with new outreach programs and a new scholarship initiative that make us proud.

The college’s supportive environment starts with faculty and staff members who are dedicated to assisting each student on their educational journey and fostering connections on campus. Class discussions, advising sessions, creative projects and scholarship, athletics and clubs create micro-communities that last long after graduation. Wheaton spirit is evident even to first-time campus visitors who remark upon the helpful directions they receive on their way from the parking lot, the greetings of passersby on the Dimple, and the friendly smiles of everyone they meet.

Wheaton’s welcoming nature also expresses itself in a variety of programs and resources designed to engage people and to improve the campus climate. The Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning, the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact, and the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life testify to this commitment. Organizations, such as the Diversity, Equity and Access Leadership (DEAL) committees and the Network for LGBTQ+ Inclusion, Support and Advocacy, facilitate the involvement of the entire campus, bringing students, faculty, and staff together to discuss topics across differences and to strive for equity, inclusion, and belonging.

This year, the college’s Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning has sponsored a series of workshops for faculty on inclusive pedagogy, an approach to teaching and learning that fosters an environment in which all students feel welcomed, valued, challenged and supported as whole people able to engage their authentic selves. This is an approach to teaching that has been shown nationally to be effective in helping students to successfully complete their degree. And programs such as the Elephant in the Room Talks series and the Empowered Bystander Training facilitate campus-wide conversations about inclusion and augment the skills of students, faculty and staff to work and live together.

Wheaton’s Network for LGBTQ+ Inclusion, Support and Advocacy held its first-ever mini-conference, All Are Welcome: Collaborative Approaches to Building Inclusive Communities. The April 20 event brought Wheaton students, faculty and staff together with local public school teachers and students for discussions about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging best practices.

The depth of Wheaton’s commitment to this work is inspirational and something we should continue to build upon. In that spirit, I recently established the Wheaton Pride Scholarship. This new $2,500 scholarship, which will be awarded annually to two students who are actively engaged in LGBTQ+ advocacy efforts, signals Wheaton’s support for the LGBTQ+ community and allyship. At a time when LGBTQ+ people face increasing threats, including from legislation in some states, visible support from Wheaton is especially important. I hope that others will join me in endowing this fund for the future.

Wheaton opened its doors to provide advanced education to women at a time when few options were available. Today, our historical commitment to providing access to high-quality education for all of our students now embraces a diversity of identities and experiences. Students of color are 21 percent of enrolled students and first generation students are 20 percent. Times Higher Ed Impact rankings have placed Wheaton in the top 10 in the U.S. for gender equality and the top 25 for reducing inequities. The college is one of just 50 institutions nationwide to have achieved First Scholars status from the First Scholars Network for its support of first generation students. The Princeton Review ranks Wheaton 21st in the nation for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Building on Wheaton’s welcoming and inclusive nature continues the tradition started nearly 190 years ago in ways that meet the challenges we face today. One of our strategic priorities calls for an ongoing effort to become a truly inclusive and equity-minded community. Endowing the Wheaton Pride Scholarship and fostering kindness and compassion will not only help the college achieve its strategic goal, but also advance our educational mission of abundant lives for all our graduates.