For several years, Western Carolina University had an unofficial group of African-American alumni that stayed connected through a website and planned a biennial African-American reunion and various events during Homecoming.
But after a series of diversity-related events and concerns that took place on campus in recent years, Pam Degraffenreid, alumna and director of the WCU Bookstore, felt it was time to form an official alumni organization.
With the help of Chief Diversity Officer Ricardo Nazario-Colón, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jane Adams-Dunford and Intercultural Affairs Director Dana Patterson, along with a host of African-American alumni, Degraffenreid put the wheels in motion.
This weekend, the WCU African-American Alumni Society will host several events surrounding Homecoming, including its first general meeting Saturday evening in the Hospitality Room of Ramsey Regional Activity Center during a post-game reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
“I felt our campus could benefit from the support of our diverse alumni,” Degraffenreid said. “The eagerness and willingness to get involved just kept growing, and was contagious. Everyone’s enthusiasm caused me to become more determined to bring this idea to fruition.”
Despite being a little apprehensive, she presented her idea to the Office of Alumni Engagement, where she received enthusiastic support, including the use of staff services and office resources.
“The formation of this new African-American Alumni Society represents the culmination of extensive work with the Western Carolina University Alumni Association Board of Directors, including current board chair Ed Holland and board members Mike Naylor and Kam McDonald,” said Marty Ramsey, director of alumni engagement. “The consensus was that this would be a good way to engage our African-American alumni and to offer networking opportunities with our faculty, staff and students.”
In July, the WCU Alumni Association Board of Directors approved the establishment of the WCUAAAS, and the election of officers took place in August. Michael Naylor was elected president; Lori “Kee Kee” Lattiner-Williams, vice president; Eric Barnes, secretary; and Rona Lockhart, parliamentarian. Degraffenreid serves as a campus representative.
“I’m humbled and honored to serve those constituency groups in any way that I can – the alumni, the students and certainly the faculty and staff,” Naylor said. “Western is not without its challenges, but it has absolutely been a very positive benefit in my life and my family’s life. I am more than willing to give back in any way that I can.”
The society already has formed a student affairs committee that will be a liaison between students and alumni, a Homecoming committee, a reunion committee and a marketing committee.
The group’s mission is to facilitate networking opportunities between African-American alumni and African-American students, faculty and staff by hosting academic, professional and social programming and encouraging support of WCU’s advancement and development initiatives. It also will serve as a resource for an exchange of career information and other pertinent information.
Any African-American student who has ever enrolled at WCU is able to participate, as well as any faculty, staff or friend of WCU with an interest in the well-being of the university, according to the group’s bylaws. There is no membership fee.
In addition to being a support resource, Naylor said the society plans to review the list of current scholarships that are available to see if they can help fund some of the ones that aren’t fully funded.
“We envision getting engaged in some recruiting efforts for the campus and we envision the funding of one or more scholarships for the university,” Naylor said. “
Degraffenreid also foresees alumni serving as role models and mentors to current African-American students.
“We have some very successful alumni who have made incredible strides professionally,” she said. “Our students can benefit from the opportunity to network with them. This campus was the key to many successful stories, and I feel it is important for our students to be connected to this wealth of knowledge, strength and leadership skills that our alums have to offer.
“We want to make the student experience on our campus rewarding. We want them to leave beaming with pride, knowing that they graduated from a campus that truly and genuinely wanted them to succeed and did everything possible to give them the resources and opportunities to make that happen. I hope the WCUAAAS’ efforts make the students understand how important it will be in their future to stay connected, and that it will make them want to give back,” Degraffenreid said.
Homecoming events WCUAAAS will participate in include:
Friday, Nov. 2
6:30 p.m. – Parade (downtown Sylva)
8:30 p.m. – Stompfest (John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center) $7 in advance, $10 at the door
Saturday, Nov. 3
Noon to 3 p.m. – Tailgating in parking lots outside of E.J. Whitmire Stadium
3:30 p.m. – WCU vs. The Citadel Homecoming football game
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. – WCUAAAS post-game reception (Ramsey Center hospitality suite)
9 p.m. – Pre-concert reception (A.K. Hinds University Center’s Illusions)9 p.m. to midnight – Entertainment and dancing social with Westsound Band (University Center’s Illusions)
Sunday, Nov. 4
10 a.m. – Student/alumni social mixer