Couple pledges $500k to support diversity and inclusion at Penn State

July 29, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Harold E. and V. Arlene Cheatham have pledged an estate gift of $500,000 to create two endowed funds in the Office of Educational Equity. With this gift -- committed through the couple’s revocable trust -- the Cheathams have established a legacy that celebrates their lifelong commitment to equity and social justice.

Both Harold and Arlene are dedicated supporters of educational equity,” said Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for educational equity. And even more than that, they’ve been strong advocates for our mission. We’re grateful for their philanthropy and vision in providing these additional resources to continue to impact the way in which we work on areas of equity, diversity and inclusion for the University.”

Of the Cheathams’ $500,000 bequest, $400,000 will be used to endow the Harold E. and V. Arlene Cheatham Fund for Inclusion and Excellence in Educational Equity. The fund will provide a flexible source of discretionary resources to advance the Office of Educational Equity’s mission to foster diversity at Penn State and support a climate of equity and inclusion throughout the University. The remaining $100,000 will endow the Harold E. and V. Arlene Cheatham Lectureship in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The endowment will support Educational Equity’s existing lectureship program, which annually brings speakers to campus to discuss racism, racial equity and social justice issues. To realize the benefits of their philanthropy during their lifetimes, the Cheathams made an additional outright gift of $25,000 to establish and provide immediate support to the lectureship.

It’s our goal to create the discretionary fund for the vice provost to make decisions and respond to the most pressing needs on campus,” explained Harold. Using our trust was a convenient way to make a significant contribution. Through the lectureship, we hope to ensure that voices of equity and inclusion will continue to be heard -- that the message is faithfully transmitted.”

For Harold, a lifelong commitment to education and to Penn State began in the summer of 1958, when he visited University Park while accompanying a friend who was applying to transfer to Penn State. Having completed his enlistment in the U.S. Navy, the New Kensington, Pennsylvania, native was a second semester freshman at another university. Smitten by the campus, Harold decided to apply to Penn State as a transfer student.

It was moments like those -- what Harold describes as cul de sacs along life’s path” -- that defined his career and his passions. On advice he received in the Navy, Harold abandoned his childhood goal of pursuing a career in pharmacy to switch to psychology, and after teaching at the secondary education level, he earned a master’s degree in counseling at Colgate University.

At the time, Harold intended to become a secondary school counselor, but instead he found himself in another cul de sac.” On the advice of Colgate mentors, Harold pursued a higher education appointment and, in three years, earned a doctorate in counseling and higher education administration at Case Western Reserve University, served as the director of university counseling and launched a scholarly career focused on student development, campus equity and diversity in higher education.

In pursuit of these professional and personal priorities, Harold has enjoyed a strong partnership of 60 years with his wife, Arlene. A native of Albany, New York, Arlene earned her bachelor’s degree in human development and family relations and a master’s in public administration from the University of Connecticut. She shares Harold’s passion to support future generations through teaching and service.

When Harold accepted a visiting scholar opportunity with Penn State in 1980 -- which evolved into a faculty position and ultimately the head of the Department of Counselor Education -- Arlene also joined the University as a counselor in the Multicultural Resource Center. Together, the couple’s impact on Penn State stretched far beyond the confines of the classroom. The Cheathams served as founding chairs of the Educational Equity Advisory Board and on the advisory board for the Office of Minority Graduate Opportunity and Faculty Development Center. Harold also served as president of the Forum on Black Affairs and chair of the College of Education Committee on Multicultural Education. The couple established the Harold E. and V. Arlene Cheatham Educational Equity Scholarship in 2007 to support students at Penn State New Kensington or Penn State University Park who have achieved superior academic records or who manifest promise of outstanding academic success, who have a demonstrated financial need and whose gender, race, ethnic, cultural and/or national background contribute to the diversity of the student body.

Arlene and I have dedicated our 40 years in education to student counseling and social justice,” said Harold. It has been very challenging at times, but it’s where our hearts and heads are.”

The Cheathams left Penn State in 1996 for Harold to serve as founding dean of Clemson University’s College of Education, Health, and Human Development until his retirement in 2001 -- but they never left the Penn State community. With their latest gift, the Cheathams have created a legacy that will continue to promote their interests and advance diversity, equity and inclusion for generations to come.

We’ve been thinking about and working on making this gift for a long time, and it’s really a coincidence that it has come to fruition as the nation is in upheaval and there is more focused interest and reflection around social equity,” said Arlene. I hope our support encourages other people to think about their own philanthropy and how they can join this critical opportunity.

We are really pleased with the University’s commitment and progress in social justice. We’re convinced that Penn State is on the right track, and that’s why we’re excited to pitch in.”

The Cheathams’ gift will advance A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

As of July 1, 2020, donors interested in creating endowed scholarship funds that benefit students whose  gender, race, ethnic, cultural and/or national background contribute to the diversity of the student body may also qualify for the University’s Educational Equity Matching Program and receive up to a 2:1 match of their gift. More information can be found at

Last Updated September 03, 2020