William & Mary is leading the way in women’s engagement and philanthropy, and Val Cushman, senior director of engagement and inclusion initiatives, works daily to grow these vital leadership opportunities for women. Next, Cushman hopes to expand these initiatives to many other identity-based communities. As part of our series highlighting alumni engagement staff, she shared how she works every day to connect William & Mary alumni to each other and alma mater.
How is William & Mary a leader in this field? — William & Mary is one of very few universities worldwide that has a position like mine, dedicated to engaging underrepresented alumni. I base my work on current research around underserved groups in philanthropy. I collaborate with others with similar positions and with universities who are thinking about starting similar programs. William & Mary is hands-down a leader in this work. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recently published “Gender Matters: A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy,” in which author Kathleen E. Leohr speaks at length about the program that she helped us to found here. I’ve also been asked to speak at national conferences about women in philanthropy as other institutions seek to engage alumnae in new ways.
Why create programming specifically for women? — While we’ve made much progress, women are still underrepresented in senior leadership positions and on boards, and women still make less than men for the same work. Providing an opportunity for women to come together and talk about issues that are specifically of interest to them provides great value, because we can gain from each other’s talents, expertise and energy.
What are some examples of this programming? — There are opportunities throughout the year and around the country for William & Mary women, including alumnae, spouses of alumni, students, and parents and family of students and alumni. Recent examples include an alumna author book signing in New York City; a series of panel discussions about women serving on nonprofit, corporate and government boards; and an alumna artist talking about her work at a museum in Philadelphia. We also host on campus events large and small, including William & Mary Women’s Weekend, which took place Sept. 18-21, 2018.
How would you describe the Women’s Weekend? — It was an unprecedented opportunity for hundreds of William & Mary women to come to campus and connect with one another while stimulating their intellect, having some fun, focusing on issues they care about and connecting or reconnecting with the university. We had almost 500 attendees from 27 states and three countries, representing the Classes of 1948 to 2020. The weekend was challenging to put together — 18 months of preparation — but to see it come together so successfully was amazing.
The Women’s Weekend was just one part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of coeducation at William & Mary, which is taking place throughout this academic year. It was only possible through collaboration with partners on campus and beyond. Special thanks go to Ginny McLaughlin ’71, chancellor professor and dean emerita of the School of Education and chair of the programming advisory committee, and Jayne Barnard, professor emerita of William & Mary Law School and chair of the commemoration.