KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University will recognize recipients of the 2023 Excellence in Diversity Award at this academic year’s Fall Awards Celebration on Friday, Sept. 29.
The recipients for the award are Tony Dennis, director of graduate student recruitment and retention; international student Leah Latumaerissa; and the WMU Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences.
“The Excellence in Diversity Award is a public acknowledgment and appreciation of the hard work that many are doing on this campus to create a culture in which we see, hear and value each member. Although only a few receive the award annually, it is a way for us to tip our hats to the individuals, departments and groups who are committed to equity and inclusion despite the challenges,” says Dr. Candy McCorkle, vice president for diversity and inclusion.
Dennis joined WMU in 1993 as assistant director of Admissions, was director of student recruitment and outreach and director of student services in the College of Aviation before coming to the Graduate College in 2005.
In his current role, he collaborates with department chairs, faculty and graduate advisors to implement recruiting programs to increase the number of enrolled graduate students and directs the Graduate Diversity Program.
Dennis has received national recognition for his expertise in mentoring students of color including from the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals and WMU Intercollegiate Athletics. He received the College of Aviation’s Excellence in Diversity Award in 2017 and helped that unit earn an University Excellence in Diversity Award that year. Likewise, he assisted the Graduate College in achieving an Excellence in Diversity Award in 2019.
“Mr. Dennis has spent his career at WMU fighting for equity and challenging us as a community to put into action the words we speak regarding DEI. I appreciate his tenacity, poise and resolve,” says McCorkle.
“Tony exemplifies excellence in diversity in his personal and professional life, has had a significant influence on diversity at WMU and has enriched the lives of many of our past and present students of color,” adds Dr. Christine Byrd-Jacobs, Graduate College dean.
Originally from Eastern Indonesia and raised in the Netherlands, Latumaerissa is a Lee Honors College student majoring in anthropology.
In fall 2022, she established Nunusaku Student Association, which educates other students about Moluccan culture and history. As president, she has spearheaded various initiatives and organized several campus events to shed light on the indigenous narrative of Dutch colonial history.
These events include curating an exhibit at Waldo Library about Dutch colonialism and facilitating a multicultural exposition for RSOs.
“Not only does Leah show and communicate her desire to represent and help the Moluccan people, but she also promotes and finds the representation of other groups and RSOs within WMU,” writes undergraduate Madelyn Mill in her nomination. Latumaerissa is also a member of the Indigenous Advocacy Committee in the Western Student Association. “I have been pleasantly amazed by her open-mindedness, confidence, flexibility and drive. I learned quite a bit of information regarding the Nunusaku Student Association, and it is not only impressive but touching to see Leah's drive for social justice.”
“Leah is an international student who has broadened the DEI conversation by introducing the experiences of ethnic minorities from a global perspective,” adds McCorkle. “She is committed to creating welcoming and inclusive spaces for all. She seeks reforms and is not satisfied with performative actions.”
Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences
The department in the College of Health and Human Services has focused the past few years on enhancing DEI in its curriculum in three key ways, says Dr. Laura DeThorne, department chair, including:
Collaborating with Black alumni to develop an infographic on how to incorporate anti-racism within all their courses.
Developing a new WMU Essential Studies course which highlights the responsibility of society in providing communication access to individuals who often have limited speech, including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, autistic or mute.
Building an international partnership with the Universidad de Costa Rica to support bilingual and bicultural education through a telehealth practice with students enrolled in Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Specifically, Dr. Hope Gerlach-Houck, assistant professor, received a recent National Science Foundation grant focused on the accessibility of artificial intelligence for people who stutter, and Dr. D'Jaris Coles-White, associate professor, received funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to increase the capacity for high-impact research involving people on the autism spectrum using a neurodiversity framework.
“We know there is plenty of work yet for us to do,” DeThorne says. “We are grateful for the support we have received, and we hope to encourage others to continue and expand their work.”
McCorkle adds that the department “collectively saw a need to make changes in the department climate, curriculum and engagement. I appreciate the faculty, staff and students of this department and am excited to watch their growth.”
The Fall Awards Celebration in Kirsch Auditorium of the Fetzer Center begins at 11 a.m. with a luncheon to follow and concludes at 1:30 p.m. The annual event also recognizes recipients of the Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Distinguished Service, Distinguished Teaching, Emerging Scholar and annual Make a Difference awards.
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