By Molly Burke
Guests from all over the Youngstown area gathered at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center for the first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Gala on Feb. 11.
A $50 ticket allowed attendees to have dinner, dance in the decorated banquet hall, participate in a basket raffle and listen to music provided by the Michael Austin Project. The proceeds from the event went to the Youngstown State University Enrichment Scholastic Summer Institute.
The YESS Institute is a three-week program for first generation, low-income, marginalized and underrepresented students who are transitioning from highschool to college. The program was founded three years ago to give students a better understanding of the resources available to them at YSU.
Penny Wells, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past, said the YESS Institute helps acclimate students to YSU.
“[The program is] basically to expose students to life on campus. They live on campus for several weeks, but they also are exposed to the different departments,” Wells said. “[The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] is willing to embrace and provide that safety net for students if they’re willing to be a part of it.”
Assistant Director of the Office of DEI, Susan Moorer, said the YESS program also provides a culturally-enriching education to students.
“We have another bus trip coming up in March during spring break, and we’re going to take the students to Cincinnati to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and also to the Holocaust Museum,” Moorer said.
Carol Bennett, assistant provost for the Office of DEI, said the YESS Institute will be more affordable thanks to scholarship money raised by the gala.
“We understand higher education is getting less and less funding, so we want to ensure the students coming through the YESS program … are awarded scholarships,” Bennett said.
The gala took over a year of preparation to be planned, but there were many resources that helped make the fundraiser possible.
“We initially got sponsors to cover our costs,” Bennett said. “We’ve also had individuals and companies that provide donations. So, I’m hoping that we can raise $20,000 to $30,000.”
Bennett said she wanted the gala to bridge the gap between YSU and the Youngstown community.
“I really am hoping that we can make a connection to the Youngstown community through this also, so we can get more sponsors from the city, and more students that are interested in Youngstown State University and have them understand that they will have a great support system once they’re on campus,” Bennett said.
Senior general studies major Brittany Bailey was on the planning committee for the gala. She said having the gala was important for spreading awareness about the Office of DEI.
“I think it’s important that people know that, not only are we on campus, but we want you to be a part of us. We’re more than just an office. We’re more of a community. Diversity is in our name. We want everyone from different backgrounds,” Bailey said. “If you want to find some comfort somewhere, you can come to us.”