In 1982, Syracuse University vice president Robert Hill was given a unique opportunity. Already head of affirmative action and special advisor to Chancellor William Tolley, Hill was asked by Tolley to lead an effort to tap into the growing influence of Black Americans on society to benefit Syracuse University.
It was a loosely defined role, so Hill came up with an equally ambiguous title: the Office of Program Development.
Forty years later, that entity is known as the Syracuse University Office of Multicultural Advancement (SUMA), a name that reflects what became a clear mission to engage Syracuse University’s Black and Latino/a alumni and fundraise in support of Black and Latino/a students. Over four decades, the office has held 13 Coming Back Together Reunions on campus, hundreds of regional events, sponsored alumni trips to locations including the Caribbean, South Africa and Martha’s Vineyard, raised more than $10 million for student scholarships through the Our Time Has Come Scholarship Program and awarded more than 1,600 scholarships.
“Most importantly, we’ve reminded multicultural alumni that Syracuse University is their home and that they are Orange for life,” says Rachel Vassel ’91, G’21, associate vice president for Multicultural Advancement.
Throughout 2022, SUMA will incorporate 40th anniversary celebrations within all its sponsored events. “We will celebrate 40 years of engaging multicultural alumni who care deeply about staying connected to the University, current students and each other,” Vassel says.
The SUMA 40th anniversary also provides a platform for alumni to give back. “We’re asking every SUMA supporter to make a commitment to the OTHC Scholarship Program by making a gift of $40, $400 or $4,000. This will help us to double the endowment to $20 million in an effort to support 200 scholarship recipients,” she says. “We’re also asking our alumni community to support Syracuse University by volunteering, hiring Orange, mentoring a student or joining an alumni club.”
The goal is to continue to build for the future. Despite SUMA’s successes, many students of color continue to struggle to obtain a Syracuse University education because of unmet financial need. In addition, first-generation students are often figuring things out for themselves and benefit from the mentorship of those who’ve been successful at college and in the professional world. “Our goal moving forward is to continue to grow our efforts to assist more students through OTHC and continue to engage our alumni to provide their unique perspectives to help make our University stronger and more equitable,” she says.
Vassel took the reigns of SUMA in 2016, the first alumnus to lead the office. “Our team is grateful to Robert Hill and Larry Martin for their leadership and hard work through the years. We are blessed to be able continue the work that they started, with the support of Chancellor Syverud, University leadership, the Multicultural Advancement Advisory Council and our diverse alumni community,” she says.
“Let’s celebrate 40 years by feeding back into our alma mater through time, talent or treasure.”