Social unrest grips DePauw University again

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Professor Alejandro Puga opens up the discussion between DePauw
students and professors concerning the diversity issues on campus.
CHRISTA SCHROEDEL / THE DEPAUW

More than 100 students, staff and faculty gathered on the Holton Academic Quad Wednesday in a display of solidarity for multicultural students who say DePauw University is not addressing what they view as a hostile learning and living environment.

They came at noon and stood in the cold. One by one, students and faculty stepped forward to speak. Professors called on the community to stand in solidarity with the students facing acts of microaggression at DePauw and the 43 missing and presumably dead non-DePauw students from Iguala, Mexico.  

Dione Gordon, senior and the first African American Old Gold Queen, advised her fellow students to not settle for the status quo and be willing to broach difficult topics.

 “Be okay with being uncomfortable,” Gordon said. “That’s a part of life.”

Gordon emphasized conversations between students, but faculty who attended the event showed great interest in being included in the conversation. They, too, feel that they have a role to play in these discussions.

“I’m a white man. I’m a white middle-class man. I’m a white middle-class heterosexual man. I’m on the right side of the equation,” said David Newman, Lester Martin Jones Professor of Sociology, who also came to support the students. “This is my fault. I didn’t do anything directly, but this is my fault. My silence makes this my fault.”

Last year, students spoke out about the campus climate in “The Movement,” a student-led group dedicated to conversations about diversity issues at DePauw.

While the first few months of this academic year have been relatively quiet, tension started to rise again after senior Jonathan Reyes sent out an email titled “Here Comes Trouble” to select students and faculty. In this letter, Reyes describes an incident of disrespect that occurred between him and other members of Lambda Sigma Upsilon Fraternity, Inc., a Latino fraternity, and staff members at the Hub.

In the email, Reyes said that on a trip to late night food services, the woman at the register greeted him and his fraternity brothers by saying,  “Here comes trouble.” Reyes notes that this made them feel “very uncomfortable.” Unprompted, one grill worker offered to put jalapeños on a student’s food.

Reyes described what happened next:

“Server 2: ‘Come on guys, what are you guys here for?’

Server 1: ‘They’re here to ask you for some money’

‘At this point, we are absolutely offended and begin to speak out about the situation to which finally, the second server says, ‘Naw man, don’t say that.’ *turning to us* ‘I’ll beat him up for you.’”

Jason Rose, general manager for Bon Appetite, the food service provider on campus, wrote in an email that they have taken this complaint seriously and have conducted a “prompt review with support of Bon Appetite Human Recourses.” Rose added, “We have taken appropriate action to help ensure that all students receive great customer service and are treated with respect.” He declined to specify what action has been taken.

Students involved in the incident were unavailable or declined to comment.

Renee Madison, senior advisor to the president for diversity and compliance, a newly created position as of this year, feels that the current issues of multicultural tolerance at DePauw should be openly discussed.

“We need to own this as a campus and for people who aren’t aware of the issues that exist for the students on our campus,” Madison said in a phone interview last night. “We need to be having conversations about that so there is an awareness on our campus.”

Madison compared tackling issues of race and microaggressions on campus to tackling sexual assault.

Students and professors gather in the academic quad during lunchtime
on Wednesday to have an open conversation about diversity on campus.
CHRISTA SCHROEDEL / THE DEPAUW

“There is no difference between this and sexual assault and the bystander intervention, that if you hear or see someone say something that is hurtful, you know how to respond to that,” she said.

Student Body President Cody Watson spoke on behalf of DePauw Student Government.

“We do believe that we need, as a campus, to have these discussions and really make sure that we are all having a great experience on this campus,” Watson said.

Dave Berque, dean of academic life, said in an email interview that this semester he has heard from two students who had concerns about classroom atmosphere. In September, the faculty approved the Classroom Atmosphere policy, which allows students to report such complaints.

Berque views it as “a step in the right direction. Of course, we have room to improve and we are committed to that improvement.”

Students’ opinions on diversity and multiculturalism at DePauw are varied.

“Basically, the value of diversity is not often seen at DePauw,” sophomore Ines Giramata said, “but there is a presence of diverse people.”

Junior Michael Chavez has similar views on DePauw campus diversity.

“In terms of inclusion, it is a little broken; there is more to do,” Chavez said.

Many DePauw students see diversity as being important. First-year Jack Norton said that he views DePauw as being very tolerant.

“It is a lot more diverse than my high school, so it’s nice,” Norton said.

There is emphasis that diversity is needed and should be embraced at DePauw.

“I grew up in a very diverse area; people can grow from being in a diverse environment,” first year Molly Doehrmann said.

Wednesday’s call to stand in solidarity is not the only sign that faculty members are taking students’ complaints seriously. Bridget Gourley, chair of the faculty, has called a special faculty meeting for Wednesday. In her email to the faculty, Gourley wrote that at the meeting “there will be one agenda item: to address on-going campus issues of racism and microaggression and the impact of these on our students' education and general well-being.”

Part of the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting will be about adding an M, or multicultural, distribution requirement.

“Most students would actually naturally fill the requirement, its just seeing what how the patterns will change,” Casey said in an interview Thursday.

Although the faculty is discussing adding an M requirement, making the change a reality will still take time.

“It will be a heated discussion, and it will take months,” Casey said. “I’ve never seen a faculty do a curriculum change in less than months.”

The faculty will also consider taking a day off from regular classes to devote to a focused discussion of inclusion on this campus.

“There’s talk of making it a winter term project for students to plan it,” Casey said. “We want to make it in a way that will get lots of people engaged and feeling like they’re getting a lot out of it.”

Madison said that all the discussions happening right now are valuable to DePauw and its students.

“I don’t think having conversations is a bad thing,” Madison said. “I don’t think it’s something we should be afraid of.”