“It’s very gratifying,” said Donna Wong about
the feeling of seeing her name on the cover of newly published book.
That book, Making a Difference: University Students of Color
Speak Out, was released earlier this year, and Wong is one
of its four coauthors.
“Typically in research and literature you hear only about
the mainstream experience of the dominant culture,” said Wong,
associate director of Multicultural Programs and Services. “When
people talk about higher education, the administrators are white,
the faculty is white and the students are white. This book is unique
because we focus on students of color, and they speak for themselves
about what it’s like to be on a college campus.
The intended audience of the fast-reading, 242-page work is university
educators and administrators. The term “students of color,”
as the name implies, covers a lot of ethnicities. And the book’s
authors took great pains to include as many as possible: Asian American,
African American, Hispanic American, Native American and international
students all are heard from in the book.
“The beauty of the book is that we have lots of representation
by students, so there isn’t just one experience,” said
Wong, a second-generation Chinese American. Her parents emigrated
to southern Californ-ia, and Wong was born in Los Angeles.
“Even among African Americans, due to being male or female,
the experience is different,” Wong said. “There was
variety among groups as well as within groups.”
The first half of Making a Difference, literally, is the
students speaking out. A number of students of color from the University
of Oregon—where Wong worked for 12 years before coming to
Emory—comment not only on their school experiences as students
of color but also on their places in the wider social structure
and the accompanying challenges.
The second part is a series of essays that delve deeper into a
variety of aspects of diversity. Wong wrote two of them: an overview
of diversity in higher education worldwide and a historical look
at students of color at Oregon. Wong also cowrote the book’s
Along with a well-annotated index and list of sources, Making
a Difference includes two checklists. One helps administrators
and educators track how their institutions stand up in the area
of diversity planning, and the other lists institutional barriers
and negative attitudes than can hamper a university’s commitment
“It’s a user-friendly book,” Wong said. “For
instance, we talk about collaborative efforts where offices [like
multicultural programs] work with the admissions office to recruit
students of color from the local community.”
The book came about as an offshoot of a 40-minute video called
“In Plain English,” which was produced by Julia Lesage,
associate professor of English at Oregon and Making a Difference’s
The video is pretty straightforward. More than a dozen students
of color, all of whom also are quoted in the book, tell their stories
to an off-camera interviewer. There is no narrator, and just one
student appears at a time. What is missing in flash is made up for
With their unfiltered stories, the students’ comments carry
a great deal of resonance. And they hit home just a bit harder than
if someone else was paraphrasing. They certainly made an impression
on Abby Ferber and Debbie Storrs who at the time of the video’s
release in 1992 were graduate students at Oregon.
They asked Lesage for a copy of the video and began transcribing
the students’ responses. Those transcriptions became the basis
for the first part of Making a Difference. Lesage then
asked Wong, who was working in Oregon’s Equal Opportunities
Program office, to contribute to the work.
“We wanted to have a full perspective with multiple voices,”
said Wong, the only non-professor among the book’s authors.
Ferber and Storrs now have faculty positions in sociology at the
universities of Colorado-Colorado Springs and Idaho, respectively.
“I worked with a broad range of students over a long period,
so I would see the changes over time as more students of color came
to campus,” Wong said.
While Wong is enjoying the release of her first book, she also
has the excitement of new job responsibilities. Since coming to
Emory in 1999, Wong has been coordinator of academic support programs
for Emory College student academic affairs. She provided college
students with peer tutors and a variety of counseling services ranging
from study skills to time management. She coordinated mentor programs
in the sciences as well.
When the new academic year begins later this month, Wong will be
well entrenched in her new position as associate director of Multicultural
Programs and Services. She will be responsible for cross-cultural
education programming, working with faculty for mentoring, and also
helping coordinate Diversity Hall, an office program based in Clifton
Now in its second year, Diversity Hall is an all-volunteer dorm
in which its multicultural residents focus on presenting a variety
of programming throughout the year to their fellow hallmates aimed
at educating them about different cultures. Wong will be assisting
the students with programming ideas.
“This is a great opportunity because I am just passionate
about working with students,” Wong said. “They come
from a community where they have a certain identity, but then they
come here to Emory, where they are exposed to all these different
perspectives, and they get to develop their own self-identity.”
Wong has seen the increasing diversity of American universities
(she calls it the “bronzing” of the student body in
her book). She graduated from UCLA in 1973 with a bachelor’s
degree in fine arts. At that time there were few service organizations
working toward diversity or many mentors for students of color.
After working in various positions in California as well as in Japan
and Taiwan, Wong entered the University of Oregon, where she earned
a second bachelor’s degree—this one in education—and
a master’s in curriculum and instructional leadership.
She taught an ethnic studies class while an instructor at Oregon
and also worked in outreach with migrant workers.
While there is still a long way to go, Wong said diversity is becoming
a driving force in university life—particularly at Emory.
“What surprised me was that there are so many Asian groups
here,” said Wong, who added that Eugene, Ore., was not a particularly
diverse place. Emory’s student body has about 30 percent of
students of color. “I think that’s one of the reasons
students come to Emory—because there are already established
clubs, combined with academic excellence.”