Posted 4:13 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, 2020
Donor, recipient share similar path into leadership in advocating for social justice in higher education.
UWL alumna Donney Moroney and her family fled Nicaragua when she was four years old. The country was embroiled in war and her father, a political figure, was the target of several assassination attempts. The family crossed into the jungles of Honduras until they could safely reach the U.S., settling in McFarland, Wisconsin, where she grew up.
When Moroney started at UW-La Crosse back in the early 1990s, she was one of few students of color on her residence hall floor. She recalls how other students weren't familiar with Nicaragua or Latin American culture, and she had a hard time connecting.
On a trip back to UWL for a scholarship ceremony at the end of spring semester 2019, Moroney didn’t have that issue. As she sat at the table with her UWL scholarship recipient Mark Moralez, they formed an instant connection. Not only did they both experience the culture shock of attending a primarily white university, they both found support in UWL’s Office of Multicultural Student Services (OMSS). They became heavily involved in campus organizations, pursued the study of political science and public administration, and took on leadership roles on campus advocating for social justice in higher education.
“Growing up in the inner city, I had a pretty rough upbringing, and I’ve seen things that a lot of people here don’t understand,” explains Moralez. “It is hard to adjust knowing friends and family back home are struggling."
Moroney remembers how close she came to dropping out her first year when she got the call from Angie (Hamm) Kellogg, former OMSS student service coordinator, asking if she’d like to get involved in multicultural student activities. Moroney helped Kellogg plan the American Multicultural Student Leadership Conference (AMSLC) that year and was elected student coordinator for AMSLC at La Crosse the following year.
“That conference was my introduction to a whole world I wasn’t aware of. I was able to understand some of the issues in higher education — such as access and the challenges students of color have at predominately white institutions,” recalls Moroney. “I thought that was just my story, but I learned it was not something wrong with me. There is a systematic issue, and we need to be part of the change.”
Her connections through OMSS led to many other involvement opportunities. “My involvement is what kept me here and motivated me. It was a transformational experience as I was figuring out what to do career wise,” explains Moroney who is now dean of students and interim vice president for Student Affairs at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee.
Moroney set up her scholarship — the Donney Moroney COVE Leadership Scholarship — to assist UWL juniors or seniors who have demonstrated commitment to social justice through their leadership and involvement in student organizations.
Her scholarship is already at work. Moralez is a resident assistant in Eagle Hall, a member of UWL’s student government, Black Student Unity and Awareness through Performance and much more. Like Moroney, Moralez has gravitated toward higher education policy in college and has found a home in UWL’s Office of Multicultural Student Services.
With no financial support from his family, scholarships and grants are the only way Moralez can attend college.
“I rely on scholarships and grants. And I put in the work to get them,” says Moralez. “It feels so good to have that hard work pay off and to know that someone is putting their trust in you to do well with that money."
This story was in the winter issue of UWL’s Lantern alumni magazine. Read more stories from the issue.