College of Arts & Sciences ’79
Playing Favorites: How One Alumna Targets Her Support for the University
Alderman Library in the late 1970s was much as it is today—minus the computers, wireless Internet, and other twenty-first-century technological tools. Its quiet nooks and crannies were prime spots for students to scour the stacks for articles and books, study for tests, or write seminar papers.
Debra Saunders-White (College ’79) was one of those denizens of Alderman. Looking back on her undergraduate days, she fondly recalls the University’s largest library, which she associates with her intellectual and personal development. “I had such a wonderful experience in Alderman Library. I don’t think I could’ve graduated without it,” she said.
Ranked among the nation’s top twenty-five university libraries, Alderman Library has extensive holdings in the humanities and social sciences. For many students past and present, it symbolizes academic discovery and growth. For Ms. Saunders-White, who majored in history, Alderman will forever be linked with the “splendid education” that she feels she gained at U.Va.
That’s why in the years since her graduation, she has directed gifts to support its general operation. But Ms. Saunders-White has other favorite targets for support.
Over the years, she has given to the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and AccessUVA, the University’s financial aid program designed to keep a higher education affordable for all admitted students regardless of economic circumstance. In a recent four-month span, she directed four $25 gifts to support AccessUVA, which she first heard about through Class of ’79 reunion materials.
“I got excited about AccessUVA and thought, ‘This is really pretty cool’. Now many talented students will have access one of the nation’s premier institutions without the burden of cost. It’s a tremendous move for U.Va,” she said.
Ms. Saunders-White herself knows how pivotal a scholarship can be for students with the ambition but not necessarily the financial resources to attend college. The Hampton, Virginia, native received a DuPont scholarship to attend U.Va., where she was one of approximately ninety African-American students who entered in 1975. She became a resident advisor in Bonnycastle dormitory, served as president of the Black Student Alliance, and pledged the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Yet, despite her success at the University, she recalls that life as a black student on a predominantly white campus in the 1970s was challenging. “In many ways, U.Va. gave me a foundation for my life. But I’ll be honest: it was a struggle every day. It was tough.”
Today, Ms. Saunders-White is Vice Chancellor of Information Technology Systems at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Clearly, she remains devoted to higher education. And in spite of some mixed emotions about her experience at U.Va., she gives back to express gratitude for what she gained.
“I’m extremely supportive of U.Va.,” she said. “Whatever I’ve been able to achieve in life has been a direct result of my education there.”