Education library receives grant to expand diversity collection

By Jordan Williams, William & Mary Libraries

The School of Education’s Learning Resource Center recently received a grant from the university to expand its Hulon Willis Diversity Collection. Hulon Willis was the first person of color admitted to the William & Mary and the first person of color to graduate with a degree in Education. He was admitted to the university in 1951 and graduated with a master's in education degree in 1956.

hulon willis
Hulon Willis M.Ed. ’56 was the first African-American student admitted to William & Mary.

Last year, associate professor Stephanie Blackmon was seeking ideas to connect the School of Education to the 50th celebration of African Americans in Residence when education librarian Rebecca Beasley shared the idea to expand the Willis Collection.

“I sent a survey to see how people in the School of Ed wanted to celebrate the 50th,” Blackmon said. “Rebecca responded about the Hulon Willis Collection and how it needed to be updated, so we decided to make that a part of a collective effort.”

For Blackmon and Beasley, one hurdle was finding funds to update the collection, but then they saw a call for proposals for the Office of Diversity & Inclusion’s Innovative Diversity Efforts Awards (IDEA). The program funds projects that support initiatives that are working to advance diversity and inclusion at William & Mary.

They applied, and their project was selected. The grant provided funds to purchase books centered on the topics of diversity, inclusion, and social justice in higher education.

“With the funding we were able to add more photos and books,” Blackmon said. “We also reached out to the Willis family to see if there was anything they wanted added to the collection.”

Beasley and Blackmon choose books that aligned with Willis’ values of diversity and inclusion, such as a book on the history of Thurgood Marshall. The Willis family requested the addition of plays by August Wilson, whose work depicts aspects of the African-American experience in the 20th century.

Beasley coordinated with the Libraries’ content services team to catalog the books.

“Now these books are searchable in the W&M Libraries catalog,” Beasley said. “They have a visible presence, and it has definitely increased their use across campus.”

Beasley and Blackmon hope to continue to grow the collection.

“We will continue to buy books that fulfill the goals of this collection and solicit input from the Willis family on materials they were like to see added as well,” Beasley said.