WSU Spirit Award honors college leader’s work to improve diversity, equity, inclusion

Luz María Gordillo was humbled to receive a Washington State University Spirit Award, mostly because she believes her work is part of a greater team effort.

Formal portrait of Luz Maria Gordillo
Luz Maria Gordillo

“Awards like this validate the work that we do,” said Gordillo, assistant dean for inclusive excellence in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).  “Our work can’t be compared to the level of Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggles, but this award lifts up people like me who believe in social justice and are working to create a more equitable, inclusive world.”

WSU Spirit Awards celebrate the life, legacy, and spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. by honoring WSU community members who are dedicated to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

Gordillo, who is also an associate professor in WSU’s Department of History, has been CAHNRS assistant dean for nearly three years. She said the first two years, which she termed “phase one,” were spent learning about the broad scope of the college, meeting people, conducting a diversity inventory, and working on numerous diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) projects. She established and leads the CAHNRS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

“I’m inspired by everyone who has given their time and energy to this committee,” said Gordillo, who is based at the WSU Vancouver campus. “We asked everyone for a two-year commitment, and we’ve already had several people volunteer for a second term because they see the impact of the work we’re doing.”

Those impacts include things like the CAHNRS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence $2,500 mini-grants. With support from CAHNRS leadership, Gordillo’s office has been able to fund eight projects so far, including a recently-announced third round of funded projects.

One previous grant recipient, a mentoring program that brings together experts from WSU, the University of Idaho, and Native nations, started as a pilot project funded by a CAHNRS DEI mini-grant. Last fall, the BioRISE project received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand its work.

“It’s rewarding to see the impact that these mini-grants can have,” Gordillo said. “One of the grants’ goals is to establish starting points. We want to support projects that will attract extramural funding. This cross-departmental, cross-disciplinary, and cross-university DEI project demonstrates the impact of the work being done.”

Gordillo is now firmly in phase two of her plan to increase DEI in CAHNRS. That means more action, especially from the DEI Committee, which is divided into four subcommittees that tackle different projects.

“One subcommittee is working on an improved DEI survey that will be more inclusive for CAHNRS faculty and staff all around Washington,” Gordillo said. “Another group is looking at ways to infuse DEI into every level of CAHNRS’ academic programs. We are now past the planning stage and working on projects that include a wider range of people.”

This is all part of the work that earned Gordillo the WSU Spirit Award. But she sees that honor as encouragement, not a culmination.

“We still have a lot to do,” she said. “And I’m excited to be working alongside so many people who are passionate about making a positive impact.”