Submitted by Roanoke College News
Roanoke College has received a generous $1.5 million endowment gift from Trustee Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo ’78 to support the College’s Center for Studying Structures of Race. The Center for Studying Structures of Race conducts a variety of research, programming and educational activities.
Cassullo has been a member of Roanoke College’s Board of Trustees since 1999 and is one of the longest-serving trustees at the College.
“Joanne Cassullo is an incredible alumnus and champion for Roanoke College. Joanne inspires me with her deep commitment to the center’s work, especially ongoing efforts to convey a more inclusive history of the College,” said President Frank Shushok. “Since much of the center’s work is undertaken by undergraduate student researchers, her gift will support the kind of hands-on learning and programming that makes a Roanoke education so remarkable.”
In addition to her trustee role, Cassullo is a Lifetime Distinguished Associate and supports myriad projects that benefit the College. In 2004, she established the Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo Professorship in Art History, which allowed the College to offer a major in art history. In 2017, she established the Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo Center for Art. Cassullo received the Roanoke College Medal, Roanoke’s highest honor for alumni, in 2008.
Cassullo was inspired to make her most recent gift through her work with the Center for Studying Structures of Race (CSSR), and especially by the center’s efforts to understand all aspects of the College’s history, even the unpleasant realities. Cassullo is a member of the center’s advisory board.
“The work I have become involved with through Roanoke College is the most satisfying of my lifetime,” Cassullo said. “I am deeply inspired by the research being done by our students. Their work has captured my imagination and has opened my eyes to the importance of researching the untold truths of our history. I am grateful to the College and to Dr. Jesse Bucher, the center’s director, for adding purpose to my life.”
The CSSR was established in 2019 to serve as a venue for teaching, research and community engagement about issues of race. The center emphasizes the examination of forms of institutional racism at local, national and international levels. Cassullo’s extraordinary gift will support academic programming, public lectures, exhibits, performances, conferences and workshops, student-faculty research projects, course development and staffing at the center. It will also further support interpretation of the planned memorial to enslaved persons and other historical structures on and around the Roanoke College campus. Additionally, the fund will allow for the development, expansion and utilization of the CSSR’s Maurice Berger Memorial Archive and Library.
At least 18 faculty members are involved with the CSSR as staff or faculty affiliates. The center sponsored the Virginia Conference on Race last academic year, hosted the
Memorials, Monuments & Memory lecture series, entered a partnership with Creative Time to create a community-centered memorial to enslaved people from southwest Virginia, established the Maurice Berger Memorial Archive and Library, and created exchanges with the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst and The Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. The CSSR’s activities have been shaped by students who have played integral roles in conceptualizing and launching new research projects. This includes the Genealogy of Slavery project, which focuses on uncovering and interpreting the history of Roanoke College and the surrounding region.
“Joanne Cassullo is a champion of the kinds of unique learning experiences that take place every day at Roanoke College,” said Bucher, who is associate professor of history, college historian and director of the CSSR. “Her unequivocal support for the center, and her dedication to supporting new educational opportunities for Roanoke College students, faculty and staff through tremendous acts of philanthropic generosity, will have a transformative impact.”
Cassullo is the director of the Dorothea L. Leonhardt Foundation, Inc., which is a private philanthropic foundation. In addition, she is a former Helena Rubinstein Fellow in Museum Studies at the Whitney Museum of American Art where she has been a trustee since 1985. She was awarded the Aperture Foundation Award in 2007 and the Fort Worth Country Day Falcon Star Award in 2014, and she was honored for her years of service at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2018.
The Center for Studying Structures of Race was formed at the end of 2019 to provide thoughtful, creative and innovative responses to the problems of race in local, national, and international contexts. The name intentionally invokes the physical structures on and around the Roanoke College campus while also emphasizing the necessity of examining forms of structural racism from an interdisciplinary perspective.