Context & Background

The mission of Denison University is “to inspire and educate our students to become autonomous thinkers, discerning moral agents and active citizens of a democratic society. Through an emphasis on active learning, we engage students in the liberal arts, which fosters self-determination and demonstrates the transformative power of education. We envision our students’ lives as based upon rational choice, a firm belief in human dignity and compassion unlimited by cultural, racial, sexual, religious or economic barriers, and directed toward an engagement with the central issues of our time.”

The college has responded to these concerns with both successes and failures. President Weinberg summarized this in a June 2020 letter to the campus when he wrote:

“Society changes when we think and act differently. I believe our nation’s college campuses are crucial to this process. We have to do more to step into this space. Our campuses need to be places where we are confronting our past, learning about the structures that shape contemporary society, and finding ways to work together to create a better future.”

This report is meant to be a comprehensive, multi-year, campus-wide plan for action and change.

We remain committed to the transformative power of a challenging and relational liberal arts education and the many benefits it has for our community. A Denison education exposes students to innovative ideas, as well as different ways of understanding the world. Creating a diverse living, learning, and working environment enables students, faculty, and staff to experience the different life experiences and evolving identities within our community, increasing our understanding and empathy. At Denison, we all treat one another with dignity and respect. Each member of our community adds value and possesses a full range of rights and responsibilities.

In 2006, the Denison Faculty provided clarity around the value of diversity to a Denison education:

“Denison University’s commitment to foster a diverse community is central to our mission as a liberal arts college to educate critical thinkers, discerning moral agents and active citizens of a democratic, global society … While we are committed to multiple forms of diversity, we also recognize that the dynamics of race play a central role in shaping individual and collective experience in the United States. It is important to the realization of our educational goals not only that students have opportunities to speak about racial, ethnic, and other differences, but that they also get a chance to speak across these differences. This can only happen if there is diversity in the classroom and, more generally, in the college. Diversity in all facets of the university has educational value for all students and benefits all members of the campus community. Diversity plays a particularly important role at Denison.”

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism (IDEA) and the University Strategic Plan

Denison is developing a comprehensive university strategic planning process building on the previous 2015 Strategic Plan. Denison Forward will become part of that overarching plan, and IDEA focus areas and principles will infuse that planning.

Historical Context

Denison University holds a distinct space in the American higher education landscape. Denison was one of the first colleges established in the Northwest Territory, a region of the country with its own long and complex history as it relates to race and ethnicity. The college achieved great success during its early years, as the United States was undergoing fast growth as a nation. During this time, many Denisonians were heavily involved in the anti-slavery movement and supported women’s education. By the Civil War, men and women (although white) were being integrated into the classroom. In 1970, Denison was one of the first colleges in the country to establish both a Black Student Union and a Black Studies Program and our student body slowly began to become more diverse.

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