The Student News Site of Weber State University

The Signpost

The Signpost

The Signpost

The Signpost

The story behind the scholarship: The legacy of Patti O’Neal

Gloria Wurst
A profile photo of Patti O’Neal.

The Patti O’Neal Dance Scholarship memorializes a professor’s love of art, compassion for her students and her fighting spirit that she used to bring topics surrounding racial injustice onto center stage.

Patti Denise O’Neal brought a breath of fresh air to the halls of the Browning Center upon her arrival at Weber State University in the spring of 1991.

Gloria Wurst, a fellow faculty member at the time and dear friend of O’Neal, remembers her for her fighting spirit.

“She was an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic social reformer,” Wurst said. “She had a very strong conviction about what she was believing in.”

O’Neal was a visiting professor in the dance program of the Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities at WSU. She brought with her an energy to create change with her art and help bring attention to issues of racism and women’s rights.

Eric Stern, met O’Neal briefly during an event at Weber State prior to his employment with the university. Stern later returned as a professor of dance at Weber State University, shortly after Patti O’Neal’s departure.

“[She] used dance for social awareness and social action, and to push the boundaries,” Stern said. “She clearly left an impression.”

Cheray O’Neal, Patti O’Neal’s daughter, said she comes from a long line of artists and that her mom had been dancing since she was 3 years old. Cheray O’Neal said she remembers her mother’s laughter, sweet nature and powerful energy.

“If she walked in a room, you would know it,” Cheray O’Neal said.

In addition to her teaching, Patti O’Neal also choreographed multiple dances about racial injustice, one piece she choreographed was about the Rodney King beating in 1991, which was one of the earliest instances of police brutality being caught on video.

“The hardest struggle is not with its people, but with a system that promotes oppression on the basis of race, class, and gender,” Patti O’Neal said in a 1993 interview with The Signpost.

On Aug. 23, 1995, two years after leaving Weber State, Patti O’Neal died from breast cancer, that was diagnosed during her time at WSU.

In an archived edition of The Signpost, Wurst wrote about Patti O’Neal in a letter to the editor, stating that she was a remarkable, compassionate and generous woman.

“Patti was dedicated to improving the world through education; we who were her students in a multitude of settings need to continue that work for her now,” Wurst wrote in her letter.

Wurst then began the process to create the dance scholarship in Patti O’Neal’s name to honor her.

Since being established in 1998, the Patti O’Neal Memorial Scholarship has awarded $18,000 to 20 students studying dance at WSU according to the university.

In an article from the Standard Examiner following her death, Patti O’Neal was quoted saying, “Art should stimulate, not pacify. If all an artwork does is entertain, it’s missed the point of what art should be all about.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Star Neil, Graphics editor

Comments (0)

Comments written below are solely the opinions of the author and does not reflect The Signpost staff or its affiliates.
All The Signpost Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *