#DearDePauw

Students of color at my alma mater, DePauw University, are organizing for visibility under the hashtag #DearDePauw. If you are reading this, I urge you to check it out and support them.

I attended DePauw from 2007 to 2012. I was a student in the School of Music and the College of Liberal Arts, and I earned two degrees there. I also met my best friends and my husband there. I loved most of my professors and learned from all of them.

No campus is perfect, but DePauw, especially the College of Liberal Arts, needs to acknowledge and scrutinize its flaws. Some bullet points from my own experience:

  • White students and students of color are separated. In my CLA classes, I do not recall having more than one student of color in a class, and I only had three professors of color (one of whom was a visiting professor). Students of color and international students are often placed in different campus housing, whether that’s due to historically Black or white Greek letter organizations, special-interest housing, or substance-free housing. The result is de facto segregation on campus, and the distinct vibe that there is “Black DePauw” and “white DePauw”.
  • Sexual/gender diversity is largely ignored.  When I was at DePauw, there was one smallish blanket student organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy. It was a nice group of people, but it generally lacked intersectionality, as well as solid, vocal representation of bisexual, trans, intersex and asexual students. I hope this has improved.
  • Binge drinking and underage drinking are ubiquitous. DePauw requires students to take an online alcohol safety course before arriving on campus, but abstract statistics mean little to most incoming freshmen. Group activities that could be fun (e.g. campus clubs, intramural sports) are either dominated by Greek organizations or largely ignored, which can make finding friends in a risk-free setting tricky. When I had my first big struggles with depression and anxiety during my first years at DePauw, I had way more visible opportunities to self-medicate with alcohol than I did to seek help in a nonjudgmental space.
  • Hazy consent is common in sexual encounters at DePauw, as it is at many residential colleges in America. When so many 18-23 year-olds are intoxicated on any given night, and our culture does not freely give people (especially women, but really any people) the vocabulary to directly discuss consent and desire with others, the issue of consent is bound to be a mess on all sides. However, the administrations of other colleges are at least paying lip service to sexual assault on campus. I haven’t found this to be the case at DePauw. Several months ago The DePauw published an article about the issue–the author interviewed victims, saying that s/he was working on an assignment for a journalism class, then published the piece in the paper, including the victims’ names. To my knowledge, the university never made a public statement about this violation or penalized the writer, though it appears that the piece was removed from The DePauw’s archives.

These are mostly problems that are common at American schools, but DePauw’s administration is not giving marginalized students the support they deserve, that they have paid for. When my husband and I receive our quarterly issues of DePauw magazine, we read articles touting alumni successes (these alumni are usually white dudes) and new construction projects on campus. We hear nothing of campus controversies or the university’s efforts to address them. Recently, DePauw celebrated the crowning of its first WOC Old Gold Queen at that festive annual homecoming celebration. I know that the student who received the honor is deserving, but DePauw has been around for 177 years. That a woman of color hadn’t been crowned before 2014 is embarrassing, but DePauw pats itself on the back. Instead of fretting that students can’t fill an auditorium to hear speeches by social justice activists or celebrities from marginalized groups, DePauw high-fives Twitter when students line up to see Jimmy Kimmel. Instead of making a visible effort to increase multicultural and/or consent education on campus, DePauw wants to make sure we know about the new gym they built.

I had a lot of fun at DePauw. I learned a lot from my professors. But I’m deeply ashamed and embarrassed that it took me until after graduation, until moving to a large coastal city, to find feminism. To learn what “intersectionality” means.  To fully understand my sexual identity. To recognize my privilege and examine my microaggressions. To take stock of the ways in which I was marginalized/victimized as a woman on campus, and the ways in which I personally was destructive to myself and others when I engaged in DePauw’s dominant culture. Most of these things are on me, but I also believe that they are things liberal arts students should learn by virtue of being on liberal arts campuses. I could have learned them at DePauw, but I didn’t know where to look.

But that’s just me. I’m lucky. To the students who are the true victims of DePauw’s campus climate, the students who have started #DearDePauw, know this: I stand with DePauw because you are DePauw. I am sorry I didn’t see you when I was there. Stay angry. Stay loud. Tiger Pride.

Update 11/12: DePauw senior Ashton Johnston (who wrote a powerful piece for HuffPo on the #DearDePauw conversation) informed me that University President Brian Casey sent an e-mail to students, faculty and staff today, expressing solidarity for marginalized students and advocating for a multicultural education requirement. Casey said he would be holding a faculty meeting next Wednesday to discuss setting aside a school day for a campus-wide discussion of DePauw’s othering culture, as well as the possibility of implementing a multicultural requirement. Casey closed his e-mail with this excellent sentiment:

Some of you may find yourself thinking that the reported examples of racism, bias and insensitivity do not involve or represent you, that the DePauw described in these reports is not the DePauw that you know. It is precisely this disconnection that, I believe, presents us with a challenge and with real opportunity. That is the work ahead for us.

I am committed to the work that lies ahead, and I look forward to the university we can become.

Note to DePauw alumni: The Office of Alumni Engagement is currently hosting a massive drive for donations targeting GOLD alumni (Graduates Of the Last Decade). I threw them a few bucks today on behalf of Zac and me. When asked where I’d like my money to go, I checked the box labeled “student experience”. My hope is that my measly donation will go toward the creation of safe, intersectional spaces on campus. If you give, make it clear why you’re giving. When I speak with my alumni friends, we remember our time at DePauw fondly, but with the understanding (sometimes verbalized, often not), that things were amiss. It doesn’t need to be that way anymore. Vote with your dollars and add some of your own noise.

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