Director of Multicultural Recruitment Mellanie Cunningham holds the award presented to PLU for its support of the Tacoma Minestral Association's Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship.
Director of Multicultural Recruitment, Melannie Cunningham, holds the award presented to PLU for its support of the Tacoma Ministerial Association’s Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship. This is in PLU’s effort to create a more open and diverse campus. Photo/Jesse Major

PLU isn’t as diverse as Director of Multicultural Recruitment, Melannie Cunningham, would like, but it’s getting there.

Because of Cunningham’s efforts to diversify PLU and to create a welcoming environment for minorities, the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance recognized PLU with the Presidential Community Partnership Award on Jan. 11 at the annual TMA Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship banquet.

PLU has supported the TMA, an organization of pastors from black churches in Pierce County, and the Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship for the last 4 years, Cunningham said.

“That’s huge,” Cunningham said. “It’s an honor and blessing to do this work.”

Cunningham, who works in the admissions office, has been working not only to attract minorities to PLU, but to make the campus more welcoming.

For this reason, students of color are likely to receive a different tour of campus than the 79 percent of white students who already attend PLU.

For Latinos, campus tours and presentations are offered in Spanish. They also learn about Latino Unidos, a student organization for those who are either Latino or are interested in Latino culture.

For black students, PLU offers Gospel Sundays. Those on a campus tour would likely attend a Gospel Sunday and be presented with admission and financial aid information.

“We have to get our outreach strategies to attract [students of color] to PLU,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said there is a misconception that multicultural recruitment is social work. She sees it as economic work.

Every student admitted to PLU pays tuition, and PLU is a tuition driven instatution, she said.”Not opening to [students of color] limits the tuition dollars,” Cunningham said.

“This award is evidence that we are aligning our strategies to build relationships with communities that we haven’t done before,” Cunningham said. “Having the TMA [support] us is very satisfying.”

Casteele Williams, a 1986 PLU alumnus who is a pastor with the TMA, nominated PLU for the award.

“It makes me feel proud to be an alumnus of PLU. I’m seeing other people have the same opportunity I did.”

Williams graduated with a Masters in Psychology and began practicing in Tacoma. He opened the first black clinic in Tacoma that helped with mental health issues, drugs and alcohol and domestic violence.

“My degree allowed me to touch lives and help people out of poverty and out of jail,” Williams said. “I’m proud to be a Lute and thankful for the opportunity as a result. “

“Black people don’t think PLU is out of the question,” Williams said. “A University in their neighborhood is now an option.” ◼︎

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