New intercultural affairs director Dana Patterson excited to be on campus

As the new director of intercultural affairs, Dana Patterson (standing) enjoys hearing what students think about societal issues.

Upon accepting her new position as director of Western Carolina University’s Department of Intercultural Affairs, Dana Patterson couldn’t wait to get to Cullowhee. She was so excited that she moved here two weeks before her Sept. 1 start date.

“Once I got here and kind of got my bearings and put my bags down, I realized I didn’t have much else to do,” Patterson said. “I came to a couple of things on campus. But, I was really anxious to get here and excited about being here.”

That excitement stems from Patterson’s interview process. She says she felt a positive energy from both the ICA staff and the students that she met. She liked what she learned about the area, not to mention the natural beauty of Cullowhee.

But, what attracted Patterson most was when she noticed people banding together and working towards a common goal.

“The students that I met were absolutely brilliant,” Patterson said. “They had aspirations and they were strong and they were happy to be here. This was a place that they felt at home, and I think ICA had a really big role in their ability to feel grounded to feel a sense of place and a sense of belonging. I think there’s a long tradition of that.

“I was anxious to get to a place that values intercultural diversity and intercultural relationships because not all campuses do that. I’ve been on quite a few campuses and not all of them have valued it.”

Patterson got her bachelor’s degree at Berea College and starting a career in social work. Her  journey to WCU began at Eastern Kentucky University, where she worked in residential life while earning her master’s degree. She was later a residential life coordinator at the University of Cincinnati before moving on to Emporia State University as the director of the Multicultural Resources Center.

Next, Patterson went to Washington State University to serve as director of the Talmadge Anderson Heritage House, which houses a collection of art, books and music that celebrate African-American heritage. Patterson also worked as an assistant director for residence life and completed her doctorate.

She later worked as the first director of the Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom at Antioch College. But, the school eventually closed and Patterson moved to Wright State University and was director for the Bolinga Black Cultural Resources Center, as well as an adjunct professor for the higher education leadership program, women’s studies and African and African-American studies.

Prior to coming to WCU, Patterson spent two years as a diversity and inclusion training consultant. But, she realized she missed the interaction with students and colleagues.

“I’d watch the news and I was like, ‘I really want to discuss this, or see what the students are saying about it,’ ” Patterson said. “I missed having an opportunity to bump ideas up against other people who are thinking critically about issues. I missed having groups of thoughtful students that I could overhear. That has been rewarding to me as an educator, to just hear where students are, hear how they’re processing and making sense of the things happening around them in the world.”

Patterson’s goals this year are to learn how things are done at ICA, while getting a feel for WCU and the region in terms of understanding the culture and climate.

“I have ideas of programs and things I would like to see happen and like to see implemented, but at this particular point, I’m just kind of pumping my breaks a little bit and being supportive of what’s going on right now,” Patterson said.

For more information, contact Patterson at or 828-227-2276.