Day of Dialogue comes to an end

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DePauw Student Government President Summer Pappachen watches the keynote presentation at DePauw Dialogue. (Photo by BYRON MASON II)

Last Updated April 25

After 5 consecutive years, Day of Dialogue will not be taking place at DePauw University this academic year.

DePauw Student Government (DSG) first petitioned the faculty for a Day of Dialogue in 2014 and approved it for a five year increment in 2016. Coming to an end of the contract, an extension for the event was denied in a faculty meeting held in September of 2021.

“We needed to take a pause, evaluate what we wanted to get out of the day, what we wanted the day to be like, and move forward from there with an outcome in mind,” said Sarah Steinkamp, chief of staff. 

Day of Dialogue was first proposed in 2014 during a time of high political climate around topics such as immigration, racism, and sexuality that was not only national news, but were relevant topics locally in Greencastle as well. 

“Dean of Student Success, JC Lopez said, “Day of Dialogue primarily came from DePauw Student government and other student leaders on campus who really initiated this program, asking faculty to engage in this conversation and asking staff and the community.” 

According to Lopez, the event was organized for staff, faculty, and students to be in attendance. All academic classes and practices were canceled. Day of Dialogue started in the Lily Center with different speakers every year to address the entire staff and student body. Then, everyone in attendance was put into smaller groups where discussion topics ranged from sexuality to religious affiliations. The topics discussed were pre-arranged by a committee of faculty, staff, and students to generate the most amount of participation and interest.

After the last Depauw Dialogue was held in March of 2021 virtually via Zoom, the Association of African-American Studies (AAAS) posted a letter on instagram addressing the DePauw Community stating their disappointment towards that years’ Day of Dialogue and how it has always been a disaster, according to the organization. 

“Members on the planning committee changed the content completely without notice the night before the day’s virtual production when planning for 2021 Day of Dialogue approximately four weeks from the event’s date,” the instagram letter stated.

Additional complaints were that “students’ recommendations and inputs were overlooked by both former Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Amanda Kim, and Alan Hill, vice president of student academic life and dean of student affairs. 

When asked to speak about last year’s event, AAAS President Kayla Thompson said that they do not have any comments regarding the topic at this time.

Chair of the Faculty, Dave Guinee was asked if DePauw Dialogue has been proven to be successful. He said, “That depends entirely on how you define success.” 

He said, “It was a success in that it raised issues and awareness, and some conversations that began on those days carried on long after. It created some positive impact, but DePauw still has a lot of work to do on these issues.”

Madelyne Sailors, sophomore and senator of DSG, said that the way conversations about race, religion, discrimination, and respect were ineffective. 

“I recognize that I'm privileged and that I don't see a lot of issues on this campus firsthand from experience. So I try my best to listen and ask other people what they see the problems are and I think if those students aren't part of the conversation in creating the content for Day of Dialogue, then I don't think it can be as effective,” Sailors said.

Staff express similar sentiments.

Steinkamp said, “I found candor and transparency to be needed.”

She said, “Many of us come from or were raised in homogenous communities. Often for the first time in college, we experience this incredible diversity. We are all coming to this work as teachers and learners and I believe that in order to have really productive conversations that bring our community forward, we need to make sure that everyone has these skills to have these conversations. It’s not something we have inherently…I think we can do better.”

Guinee believes two major challenges were that students complained about “forced participation” and that “the minority students who have often suffered from bias incidents, microaggressions, and outright racism on campus were the ones primarily tasked with running this event, and some of them complained — fairly — that it wasn’t their job to educate majority students on these issues.”

While some students and staff see it best for those who have been directly affected to be in charge of DOG, others are not with it. 

Lopez said, “Sharing experiences is a personal choice. People carry different life experiences into discussions and I never want to force somebody into a challenge or feeling like they need to do the education for a community or for individuals.”

With the information on years past and  feedback given from the campus community, faculty decided that change needed to be made to ensure success and avoid further harm. 

According to Steinkamp, when President White came to campus in 2020 and immediately began working on a Strategic Plan Project, she emphasized four goals that act as the pillars for campus climate. One of these pillars is institutional equity. 

Some of the major objectives stated on DePauw’s strategic plan website are to “Centralize and elevate an institutional-level strategic focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion at DePauw to be led by a senior cabinet officer and institute systems, policies, and practices that strengthen DePauw’s ability to recruit, retain, and support a diverse community to ensure that all of the students, staff, and faculty can pursue their interests, follow their passions, and feel they belong at DePauw.” 

After Amanda Kim, former vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion left her position the cabinet is in search for a replacement for the position which has changed to Vice President of Institutional Equity. 

Steinkamp said, “The search is going well and we anticipate a new VP this summer.”

Until a Vice President of Institutional Equity is found, Day of Dialogue will be put into abeyance.

As of April 7, DePauw has hired Dr. Dionne Jackson as DePauw's first Vice President of Institutional Equity