The Brotherhood Initiative (BI) -- an interdisciplinary initiative at the University of Washington designed to close the graduation and achievement gap for men of color on campus -- has found a permanent source of funding thanks to an endowment established by longtime volunteer Olga Yang. Founded in 2016 by College of Education Professor Joe Lott, the Brotherhood Initiative fosters a sense of belonging for men of color who often feel isolated in predominantly white academic settings. The endowment ensures a portion of the Brotherhood Initiative's operating costs will be covered each year.
“The goal of the BI is so basic,” Yang said. “It’s making sure students have the chance that they deserve. When I learned about the program, I immediately thought, ‘What can I do?’”
Yang was compelled to give to the Brotherhood Initiative because of her own experiences as an undergraduate at UW -- and the feelings she had that she didn’t belong. As a teenager, Yang migrated to the U.S. from the Philippines with her family. She didn’t believe she was qualified to attend college, but decided to meet with a counselor in the Educational Opportunity Program at the UW, an academic counseling program for minoritized students. Yang ultimately received an EOP scholarship for one year, so she enrolled at the UW and began studying economics.
“I thought I could never go to college in the United States until the EOP counselor said I should go to school and make something of myself,” Yang said. “Someone reached out and said, ‘We’re going to help you. If you want to work hard, you can succeed.’ That’s why I relate to Brotherhood.”
Yang learned about the Brotherhood Initiative when she heard Dr. Lott speak as part of a Samuel E. Kelly Distinguished Faculty Lecture in 2016. She was inspired by the BI’s mission and Lott’s commitment to turning his ideas into action. Not long after, Yang ran into Dr. Lott in Mary Gates Hall and immediately asked about supporting the Brotherhood Initiative. After their first encounter, Yang and Lott began meeting weekly for a while to talk about the BI and ways that the program could grow.
“In academia, you have a lot of theory,” Yang said. “Dr. Lott is an inspiring leader to me because he is one of the few people I know in academia who has a theory and is doing something about it.”
Yang understands the importance of establishing endowments at UW, in part because of her experience receiving a scholarship and in part because she understood, through her economics courses, how an initial gift would be invested in UW’s Consolidated Endowed Fund and grow over time. Once she learned her new employer had a matching gift policy, she was able to establish an endowment in the Economics Department shortly after graduating with her own donations and her employer’s match. Yang’s endowment -- named the Yanlan and Robert Yang Endowed Fund in honor of her parents -- supports undergraduates at risk of not completing their degrees because of financial difficulties. The endowment started at $10,000 in 1988 and has grown to over $106,000. Yang hopes to see similar growth for her new endowment with the Brotherhood Initiative.
For Dr. Lott, it was an equally meaningful introduction, since the Brotherhood Initiative was actively looking for donors and volunteers to support the first cohort of students.
“She was so gracious with her time, sharing ideas and information about her endowment in Economics,” Lott said. “It was a great learning experience.”
Now, over four years later, the majority of young men from the first cohort of the Brotherhood Initiative students have graduated from UW and entered various industries from entertainment to academia to technology. Yang’s endowment ensures that there will be a permanent source of funding for the Brotherhood Initiative at UW, so that young men of color have a permanent source of support.
“I don’t want to give the program money that disappears,” Yang said. “I want to give them money that is permanent and grows interest. I thought that if we created an endowment for the Brotherhood Initiative, it would catch the attention of alumni who want to support it -- especially other EOP scholarship alumni like me.”
With a lasting and growing source of funds, Lott will be able to expand the Brotherhood Initiative’s reach beyond the UW to help more men of color access college. While the endowment only covers a portion of the Brotherhood Initiative's annual operations, it still makes a tremendous difference to have those funds reserved in perpetuity.
“This endowment is going to allow us to serve more students, not only on campus, but also with pre-college and college access,” Lott said. “We want to get into the K-12 environment, work with community colleges, and expand career pathways into businesses.”
Story by Gabriela Tedeschi, marketing and communications student aide.
Photo of Olga Yang taken by Emile Pitre at a UW Brotherhood Initiative event.