Dr. Rhonda Coats honored with racial justice award by YWCA

Dr. Rhonda Coats, Vice President for Student Services at SPSCC, has been awarded the first ever Racial Justice Award from the Olympia YWCA, or Young Women’s Christian Association.

In their own words, the Olympia YWCA “strives to eliminate racial and gender inequity and advance the social and economic status of all women and girls.”

The award will be given at the 2014 Women of Achievement Gala and Fundraiser, hosted by the Olympia YWCA. Dr. Coats is being awarded for her work with traditionally underrepresented students, such as students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBT students.

“The YWCA has been active in the civil rights movement, and of course advocating for equal rights for women and people of color for a long long time, and we thought it was important to highlight individuals that have a direct connection with that part of our agency,” said Hillary Soens, executive director of the Olympia YWCA, “Rhonda’s work has been so focused on social justice and racial justice that she was a great candidate.”

“We’ve been doing the Women of Achievement honorees for twenty years,” said Cherie Reeves Sperr, Communication and Special Events Director at the YWCA, “The work has been going on for decades, especially at the national office, but here locally this is the first time we’ve awarded a Racial Justice Award and we’re glad to do it.”

Coats said her own experience as an underprivileged student inspires her work. “I grew up in Virginia, in the ‘50s and ‘60s segregated Virginia, knowing limitations: where I [could] and [could] not go to school. I think that has influenced me more than anything else.”

Over her career at SPSCC, Dr. Coats has been involved in many endeavors that have added diversity and equality to the college. As the Financial Aid Director for SPSCC, Dr. Coats created the Diversity Enhancement Scholarship, “to honor students who had demonstrated a passion for diversity,” said Coats. This scholarship is still in existence today.

Coats has also worked with the state community college system to recognize LGBTQ students, written grants to get funding for students with disabilities, and co-created the Safe Zones around campus and SPSCC’s Bias Response Team, a system to which students and staff are able to report incidents of possible intolerance or hate.

On receiving the Racial Justice Award, Dr. Coats said she was “humbled, shocked, and really blessed that people recognize the work that I do.”

Correction November 7, 2014:
The printed version of this article refers to Dr. Rhonda Coats as Dr. Rhonda Coates. The correct spelling is Dr. Rhonda Coats.
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