Critical conversations on race and privilege


Few topics spark raw emotions like the important questions of race, privilege and culture. This has become evident in recent days as our campus has been engaged in a critical and complex discussion about how difference is manifested on the DePauw University campus.

This is, perhaps, particularly true because such a discussion forces us to consider key questions about the values we hold as central to a university such as ours. They ask us to contemplate whether we are, as a community, fully realizing our goals of providing a powerful academic experience within a campus culture that embraces all of its members.

These conversations have been sparked by the real-world experiences of students who come from diverse backgrounds, domestically and internationally. By their very nature, the concerns we are hearing from students about a variety of issues - from the environment of our classrooms, to the acceptance (or lack of acceptance) they feel from their peers, to the sense of inequality felt within our community - and the conversations they engender are challenging and complex.

Though difficult, the dialogue taking place right now is essential if we are to fulfill our mission as a liberal arts college that asks students to wrestle with complexity and engage in critical thinking and problem-solving. Through these conversations we can - and will - shift cultural understanding and take appropriate and meaningful action.

As the University president, the vice president for academic affairs and the vice president for student life, we have an obligation not only to be part of these conversations, but to be actors in moving our campus forward. We all have a role to play in these discussions. DePauw will only be at its strongest when all members of our community feel accepted and supported. Know that we will be looking to each of you, to the entire student body, both to listen to each other with respect and empathy and to help construct solutions to these issues. Fundamentally, the answers before us rest in our collective ability to spurn stereotypes, in whatever form they appear, and to accept perspectives and experiences that differ from our own.

There are a number of actions that we will take to move this effort forward. First, we fully support DePauw Student Government and the Diversity and Equity Committee as they host campus-wide forums on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively. We will call for more such events, should they be necessary. Second, in response to a survey conducted during the fall semester, the Office of Academic Affairs is reviewing ways to help faculty better understand how to create classroom environments where difference is embraced in healthy and constructive ways.

Further, we have asked the Diversity and Equity Committee to offer a report to us and to the faculty at-large on various policies related to diversity on our campus and the creation of a diverse academic community. In light of current campus dialogue, we have asked that the Diversity and Equity Committee include in their report a response to the questions raised by current campus conversations of race and privilege. This report will be able to inform potential further steps we could take together in the future.

Most importantly, we would call on our community to keep talking and listening with respect and care. The strength of a liberal arts college like DePauw is that we can, and do, change.

Brian Casey, President 
Larry Stimpert, Vice President for Academic Affairs
Cindy Babington, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students