Roger Pulliam, a champion of equity and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater who devoted his life to opening the doors of education for everyone, has died at the age of 77, according to an announcement from UW-W.
He passed away Wednesday morning, Feb. 12, in Wisconsin, according to his family.
“It is impossible to quantify Roger Pulliam’s impact, not only on our campus, but on higher education across the United States,” said Chancellor Dwight C. Watson. “Generations of students benefitted from the groundbreaking work of this selfless and kind man who — during his tenure at UW-Whitewater — was the heart and soul of our diversity and inclusion efforts. Our thoughts are with his family and the many alumni and colleagues who were fortunate to have learned from and worked with him. Dr. Pulliam was a man of integrity who lived and exemplified the values of the Warhawk family.”
Calling Pulliam “Black excellence in the flesh,” UW-W alum and Madison365 Publisher Henry Sanders said, “Roger Pulliam was probably the most effective person I’ve ever met at helping black students. When you travel Wisconsin and find black graduates from Wisconsin, most of them come from Whitewater. That’s all because of him. Sad day.”
“Dr. Pulliam was a great leader and will be truly missed,” said Jeffrey Patterson, a UW-W alum and owner of JP Hair Designs in Madison.
“One of the very first African American men that I encountered whose“smile matched the handshake,” said Ty Evans, associate head coach of women’s basketball at Auburn and UW-W Athletic Hall of Fame honoree. “He was intentional in providing opportunities for African American students and he made it his life mission to do whatever he could to provide opportunities and encourage African American students to aspire to become more than what they thought possible. A true trailblazer and mentor for many, including myself.”
“Dr. Pulliam brought out the best in the students he mentored because he only saw their greatest untapped potential,” said Ramon Ortiz, associate dean at Madison College.
After growing up in Gary, Indiana, Pulliam became the first in his family to graduate high school. He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Michigan University and a PhD from the University of Michigan.
As an administrator at Western Michigan University, he established the Martin Luther King Program in 1968 with the sponsorship of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. He later joined the faculty at the UW-Whitewater, where he worked in various roles from 1989 to 2018.
During his tenure, he served as assistant vice chancellor of academic support services, director of advancement and, most recently, interim chief diversity officer.
Pulliam won state and federal funding to enhance the achievement of first-generation, low-income and multicultural students at UW-Whitewater. He also succeeded in helping hundreds of students participate in travel-study experiences. These efforts extended to his work as a founding member in 1998 of the Office of National Black Student Union, fostering numerous co-curricular experiences for students.
His efforts were so remarkable that he was the inaugural recipient of the Lifetime of Service Award, from the Wisconsin State Council on Affirmative Action, and was celebrated at the Wisconsin State Capitol in October 2019.
“I knew that regardless of the high school they attended, if students came to UW-Whitewater, we had the resources and the determination to get the best out of them,” he said in a 2019 interview.
UW-W officials said more information will be shared as it becomes available, including the date and location of memorial services.