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'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Rute Ayalew and Deb Marke receive Wake Forest’s 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. ‘Building the Dream’ award

The award celebrates two individuals who represent King’s values within the community
Wake+Forest+Universitys+Building+the+Dream+Award+is+given+to+two+individuals+who+uphold+the+values+of+Martin+Luther+King+Jr.+within+their+communities.+This+award+was+given+to+Deb+Marke+and+Rute+Ayalew.+%28Courtesy+of+Wake+Forest+University%29
Wake Forest University’s “Building the Dream Award” is given to two individuals who uphold the values of Martin Luther King Jr. within their communities. This award was given to Deb Marke and Rute Ayalew. (Courtesy of Wake Forest University)

Senior Rute Ayalew and Assistant Director of Advocacy and Social Justice Deb Marke were named the recipients of Wake Forest University’s 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. “Building the Dream” award.

The Building the Dream award is given to a professor or administrator and a student from Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State University who represent Dr. King’s values and promote diversity within their community, according to a Wake Forest press release. For over two decades, Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University have worked together to host events honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Faculty, staff and students from each school submit their nominations and a committee of representatives from each school picks winners. 

The recipients were recognized during an annual banquet event on Jan. 15 that honored King. Ayalew and Marke received this award as a recognition of their efforts within the Wake Forest and Winston-Salem community to promote diversity and inclusion. 

Ayalew is a computer science major and a Leadership and Character Scholar. On campus, she works at the Women’s Center and participates in the Menstrual Access Project. Within the computer science department, she works to promote the support and inclusion of all different students. She said that many students come to Wake Forest with different experiences of what courses were offered at their schools.

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“A lot of people come to Wake and have very different experiences of what kind of courses they were offered at their schools, what kind of resources they had,” Ayalew said. “Personally, I went to a very underfunded public school and so majoring in computer science, I never took a computer science course before college, and that’s the case for a lot of first-gen students in the department and they tend to struggle a lot more.”

She continued: “So that’s the essence of the work I do for the computer science department—figuring out ways to not only support those students but also empower the professors to be better equipped to support students that have different needs and have different levels of experience coming into the department.”

She gave practical suggestions for how the department can support students, such as periodic course evaluations during the semester.

Not everyone has to have the exact same experience at Wake Forest, but we should recognize that everyone’s experience is important and should be held with equal value.

— Deb Marke, Assistant Director of Advocacy and Social Justice

“[It] includes a lot of policy suggestions that are actually applicable university-wide,” Ayalew said, “like regular course evaluations throughout the semester rather than at the very end [and] ways for professors to constantly get feedback from their students and understand whether or not they are being effective across the board.”

Marke is the assistant director of advocacy and social justice education within the Office of Civic & Community Engagement at Wake Forest University. In her position, she oversees the Social Justice Incubator, Branches Social Justice Retreat and College Advocacy Summit. 

She also coordinates the Deacs Decide election engagement project and Wake Alternative Break. One of her responsibilities is overseeing all democratic and electoral engagement work.

“Through Deacs Decide we really focus in on voter registration, voter education and voter turnout,” Marke said. “A lot of that looks like decreasing barriers for students, so when we have … the polling location at the church, that was part of the Deacs Decide and helping to think … [about] transportation and access.”

In addition to the extensive work done by Marke and Ayalew on campus, they also spend time trying to help others off campus, as well. Marke directly oversees the Period Project of the Triad’s partnership with Wake Forest, and she recently participated with students in the city’s Creek Week by cleaning up local creeks.

“Just thinking about what are some little tiny ways that we can think about getting off campus — we often hear about Wake Forest being a ‘bubble,’” Marke said. 

Ayalew also spends a lot of time outside of the Wake Forest campus to continue to create community. She works with Housing Justice Now, where she helps tenants receive fair and equitable housing. 

“With Housing Justice Now, I do a lot of different things, primarily tenant organizing, which is working alongside residents of Winston-Salem to advocate for tenant rights, proper housing and proper accountability with landlords,” Ayalew said. “There is also a lot of eviction court support that I offer and just general community strengthening to empower people to get their needs met in terms of housing and not accepting anything less than that.”

So that’s the essence of the work I do for the computer science department—figuring out ways to not only support those students but also empower the professors to be better equipped to support students that have different needs and have different levels of experience coming into the department.

— Rute Ayalew, Class of 2024

In addition to helping the community of Winston-Salem attain fair housing, Ayalew also promotes equality within Winston-Salem by working with the organization Hate Out of Winston, which is dedicated to anti-racism in Winston-Salem.

Both Ayalew and Marke’s work comes from their shared priority to build spaces of community on Wake Forest’s campus and in Winston-Salem. 

Marke explained how she works to create open dialogue within the community of Wake Forest through “Deacon Dialogue” — dialogue programming that was piloted last semester and is being hosted again this semester. Last semester, she led a dialogue with grad students about political polarization and why it exists. This semester, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement is hosting a political polarization one again that is open to everyone, one on colorism in partnership with the Intercultural Center, one about gender and sexuality and one around environmental justice. Marke emphasized that part of doing any good social justice work is being able to listen empathetically and understand where people are coming from.

“​​[One of] the parts of my work that I love the most is just creating spaces where students are able to have conversations and talk about their experiences,” Marke said. “I think that we don’t really get a lot of [opportunities] to have structured conversations to just … really understand why a person is the way that they are.”

Ayalew said that, in the future, she looks forward to continuing to build community spaces on the Wake Forest campus whether that be in professional or social spheres. 

“I try to prioritize making sure that people feel like they belong and people feel like they’re constantly seen in their full capacity to grow,” she said.

Marke said that she saw the award as an affirmation of her efforts so far. In the future, she hopes to create a student experience that is equitable and accessible to all students.

“Not everyone has to have the exact same experience at Wake Forest, but we should recognize that everyone’s experience is important and should be held with equal value,” Marke said. “And [it’s important] that people find spaces where they feel seen and heard and cared for and that they feel like they belong and that they go out and do good things in the world.”

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Claire O’Brien, News Editor
Claire is a sophomore from West Hartford, Conn., who is majoring in English. She loves to go on walks in Reynolda and visit new coffee shops.

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