EWU’s 137 years celebrated with nod to diversity


Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, EWU Libraries

Benjamin P. Cheney Building, the first building on campus. EWU’s beginnings started in 1882.

By Sam Jackson, Copy Editor

What began as the Benjamin Pierce Cheney Academy Formal School for Children in 1882, has evolved into a university recognized for its diversity known as EWU.

April 3. marks the university’s 137 birthday.


The name game

According to EWU Archives and Special Collections, EWU’s campus was once a formal school named after Cheney’s namesake Benjamin Pierce Cheney. In March 1890 the academy transformed into the State Normal School at Cheney, a school for teachers. By 1937 the school became Eastern Washington College of Education and was renamed again in 1961 to Eastern Washington State College. The university’s current name was granted in 1977.

The earliest records of EWU Archives and Collections that contain details regarding the names and number of students on Eagles territory reach back to the State Normal School. Thirty-four out of 50 of the first students enrolled at the school were Cheney residents. All but two students enrolled in 1890 were residents of Washington state.


“We want individuals of every background, belief, and identity to feel included and respected.”

— Amy Johnson, Associate Vice President for Student Life and the Dean of Students



Now EWU enrolls students from anywhere, allowing diversity on campus to grow. According to EWU’s website, “more than one in three students are from diverse backgrounds.”

EWU earned the 2018 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine during fall quarter. The award recognizes higher education institutions that demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion. This was the first time the university has earned this achievement.

“I think they really looked at us as a whole, and they were impressed by our vision and what we have in place now,” said Dr. Shari Clarke, vice president of diversity and inclusion.

Clarke believes the university is “just at a better place” due to the Multicultural Center, Pride Center, Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the programs offered that cover race and culture.

The Office of Diversity & Inclusion intends to increase the number of students with diverse backgrounds on campus, according to Clarke.

“We are at 15.4% Hispanic Latino students and we would like to be at 25%,” Clarke said. “Our goal is to be a diversity serving institution and a hispanic serving institution. So we’re working on those numbers diligently. We want to increase our numbers of all underrepresented populations. We want to be sure that everybody who comes here has this incredible, glorious experience here.”



Clarke said the Office of Diversity & Inclusion is continually working on initiatives that will promote and expand diversity.

One initiative Clarke mentioned is that EWU joined the Southern Regional Education Board. The board works with institutions to improve public education. Some programs work to increase the number of minority faculty, according to its website.

“(SREB) primarily work with doctoral granting institutions and support individuals who are underrepresented women and other underrepresented populations toward their doctorate,” Clarke said. “We are now a part of that, (and) we received a special designation. So we are allowed to go recruit at the teaching and mentoring institute every single year in an effort to get folks to see who we are as an institution and hopefully encourage some of those underrepresented faculty to join us here.”

Another initiative toward diversity and inclusion the office established is the Self-Esteem and Higher Education (SHE) Leadership Academy. The program invites 10 girls from six high schools in Spokane and Cheney once a year to spend a day on campus exposed to higher education and mentored by a female campus leader in an effort to encourage college attendance.

“So we’re everywhere,” Clarke said. “We’re involved in campus, we’re in the community, and we’re always moving that agenda forward and inclusive excellence forward.”

The associate vice president for student life and the dean of students  Amy Johnson said in an email to The Easterner that the university has expressed a clear commitment to being a campus community that welcomes diversity in all its forms.

“We want individuals of every background, belief, and identity to feel included and respected,” Johnson said. “This is evidenced by the recent hiring of our first vice president for diversity and inclusion and the creation of our first Multicultural Center for students, which we were proud to construct in our newly renovated PUB, along with the EWU Pride Center.”

Johnson said she thinks that the university’s recognition as a recipient of the 2018 HEED Award, speaks to the focus and dedication of diversity on campus.

“Students are responding—and choosing EWU because of it,” Johnson said. “We still have lots of work to do, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining diverse students, faculty, and staff and in developing a high level of cultural competence across our Eagle Family.  It’s work that we look forward to tackling together.”

Only 98 institutions received the 2018 HEED Award and three were from Washington state. Clarke said the importance of diversity and inclusion at an institution has to do with preparing all  students to live and work in a diverse world.

“It’s a global society,” Clarke said. “So we want to be sure that everybody who leaves here is comfortable and aware of diversity and embraces it. And respects diversity in all its incredible formats. And I think that’s what’s really important.”