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Walla Walla University Library Receives $10,000 Grant for Diversity Research

Walla Walla

Walla Walla University Peterson Memorial Library; photo provided by Walla Walla University

The Walla Walla University Peterson Memorial Library received a $10,000 grant from the Washington State Library. The grant will provide updated literature and resources to support student research on diversity and belonging. 

The grant was supported by American Rescue Plan Act funding, provided by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Library Services and Technology Act, through the Washington State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State.

In addition to supporting updates to the library's collection, a portion of the grant has been allocated to host book discussion groups. “Peterson Memorial Library, in partnership with the university’s Donald Blake Center, would like to build bridges with our underrepresented students and community members,” said Cheris Current, director of the Donald Blake Center (DBC) and WWU professor of social work and sociology. To do this, Current says they plan to host “read-along book discussion groups designed to build engagement through shared inquiry.”

Walla Walla reading book

Book discussion in the Walla Walla University library this past May; photo provided by Walla Walla University

In early May WWU professor Alma Alfaro, who teaches Spanish facilitated book discussions on Más Allá De La Frontera or Living Beyond Borders: Stories About Growing Up Mexican in America,” edited by Margarita Longoria. The book highlighted and extended the focus of this year’s Blake Center conference, “Race and Belonging: Latinx Experiences in the Pacific Northwest.”

Alfaro encouraged discussion in English and Spanish, which increased participation and multilingual engagement with the topic. According to Carolyn Gaskell, director of libraries, Alfaro’s “ability to respond to the participants in both English and Spanish was crucial to making the event a success.”

Also present to support the discussion and provide connections to faculty and staff were Beverly Roper-Archer, assistant to the chief diversity officer; Gaskell; and Current. 

A week after the discussion group, the book’s editor gave a virtual presentation on the book and provided a question-and-answer session. Said Gaskell, “I was especially struck by a participant’s comment that of the six book clubs to which she belonged, this was the only one where the authors of the short stories had last names similar to her own. That participants felt a sense of connection and belonging epitomized the purpose for the grant and book choice.”

 — Kiersten Ekkens is a Walla Walla University Relations student writer.