President's Speeches & Writings:

January 2020 Letter to Students

President's Office
January 19, 2020

Dear Students:

I hope you had a good break between semesters. Welcome back. As we get ready to start the second semester, I want to provide a few updates.

The First-Year Experience: Next week, you will receive an email from the Dean of First-Year Students, Mark Moller, about a conversation on re-imagining the first-year experience (and perhaps extending it into the sophomore year). The conversation will focus on three questions: First, how do we acclimate students to Denison in ways that are consistent with the goals outlined in my August Welcome Back letter to students? Second, how do we provide support for first-year students, given that we have students who arrive on campus with a wide range of backgrounds, needs and interests? And third, how do we create strong, supportive and welcoming first-year communities? We will be forming working groups to explore different aspects of the first-year experience. There will be lots of opportunities for students to help shape the next iteration of the first-year experience.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Next week, you will also receive a letter from me that outlines the work we are currently doing on diversity, equity and inclusion and invites the campus community into a larger conversation about how we do this work together. Academic institutions need to be places that are characterized by differences of many kinds; that recognize, honor and celebrate the value of diversity; and that encourage constructive disagreement as a part of intellectual inquiry, problem solving and the creation of knowledge. First and foremost, this is an ethical issue. Every institution of higher education should be committed to diversity, equity and inclusion as part of its mission. It is also a practical issue. Difference helps generate new knowledge and improves the quality of our thought, our ability to be creative, and our capacity to solve problems.

At Denison, our approach to this work is decentralized with lots of faculty, students and staff involved in a range of initiatives and efforts. While that has many benefits, it can also make it hard to see everything that is happening and how our individual work fits into a larger whole. The purpose of my letter is to start a larger process of better coordination through which we will catalogue all the work being done across the college, finding places where we would benefit from additional efforts, and assessing if our areas of focus are the right ones.

Posse: In December, I announced that we will be phasing out our partnership with the Posse Foundation over the next five years. A number of students were critical that I did not mention more fully that Posse is an academic merit and leadership scholarship and that the Posse program has helped us recruit many outstanding student leaders to Denison. Of course, these students were right. That was my mistake which I will own. One of the many benefits of our partnership with the Posse Foundation has been the quality of the student leaders it has brought to campus. Posse Scholars have contributed to Denison as leaders in the classroom, student organizations, the arts, student government and other areas of campus life.

A number of students (and others) have asked about how Denison will fill the gaps left when we conclude our relationship with Posse in a few years. Some questions have revolved around the support we will provide to students. This is a really important question. We will take the lessons of our partnership with Posse and make opportunities more widely available to students who want or need these kinds of support. This will be a major topic for the conversations that Dean Moller will lead as we re-imagine the first-year experience. Others are asking questions focused on admissions and making sure we continue to recruit a diverse student population to Denison. This work is already being done in association with a dozen other community-based organizations whom we have been partnering with to recruit amazing students to Denison. We are excited about the opportunities to work with additional community-based organizations in a larger number of communities.

I would encourage you to read my letter on diversity and Dean Moller’s letter on the first-year experience. I am also happy to talk with students who want to explore this topic with me.

Hiring a new Vice President for Student Development: A committee of students, faculty, staff and trustees have been reviewing the credentials of candidates. The committee is starting the process of initial interviews with the goal of bringing three candidates to campus between March 1-9. There will be opportunities for students to meet the final candidates and offer input into the final selection. I am grateful to the committee for the dedication and the investment of time they are putting into this important search. The committee includes the following: Raj Bellani, Committee Chair, Chief of Staff; James Anderson, Trustee; Holly Breymaier, Academic Administrative Assistant; Chad Buckwalter, Assistant Director of International Student Services; David Goodwin, Chair of the Faculty; Fareeda Griffith, Chair of Anthropology and Sociology; Trinidy Jeter, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Multicultural Student Affairs; Veerendra (Veve) Lele, Interim Associate Provost for Diversity; Michaela Morrison ’20, Student; Melanie Murphy, Director of Career Exploration and Campus Engagement; Alexandra Schimmer, General Counsel; Tom Szykowny, Trustee; Vaval Victor ’20, Student; Susan Whiting, Trustee.

Deepening the Arts at Denison: The opening of the Michael D. Eisner Center for the Performing Arts has been fantastic. I want to thank all of the faculty, staff, students, and alums who were involved in art-making and performances this fall. The arts are a crucial part of the liberal arts. Through the arts, we have unique and powerful ways to bolster voice, agency, and confidence; encourage cooperation; and foster empathy. From my perspective, we often find our humanity through the arts. The work being done across the arts is bringing intellectual and cultural value to the campus in a myriad of ways, offering amazing art experiences across the college and into the community. The combination of the Eisner Center and Bryant Art Center provides a platform to expand our commitment to and support for the arts at Denison. We are engaged in conversations about interesting ways to expand the curriculum and co-curriculum. We are also continuing to have conversations about how to best use the Eisner Center building. I would encourage you to investigate the arts by taking a class, attending a performance or exhibit, and talking with faculty to see how to make the arts a part of your Denison education.

Career Exploration: A major focus of the college is career exploration. Our goal is to provide you with a liberal arts education that will unlock your potential to be the architect of your life. This means preparing students to launch successfully into careers and lives. A lot of work is being done in the Knowlton Center. Please make sure you are reading the Knowlton Note which lists many of the programs and opportunities. Sophomores-there is a special Knowlton Note for you. Please read it. Consider attending our inaugural Sophomore Career Planning Conference on January 31-Febuary 1.

Wellness: One of the goals of a liberal arts education is to help students develop the emotional agility and life habits to thrive in a world that is often fast moving, stressful, ambiguous, and complicated. Over the last few years, we have developed a range of programs focused on this part of your personal development. When there is a lot going on, it can be hard to find ways to communicate the range of opportunities to students. RED Corps students have been engaging students on a number of new initiatives and will be piloting several of these over the course of the spring semester. Please make sure you are reading the Wellness Newsletter emailed to the campus on the first day of each month. You can find back copies on MyDenison. Also check out the recently relaunched wellness webpage.

Summer Construction: It will be a busy summer on campus with lots of construction going on. We will complete Silverstein Hall, which will create a Senior Quad with a number of new amenities and add 160 new individual bedrooms on campus. We will also undertake renovations of Shorney, Smith, Curtis East and West, Crawford and Myers Halls. King will go “off-line” for a year as we undertake a complete overhaul of the building. These changes are the next phase in our larger plan to renovate every residential hall on campus. We will also break ground on the new wellness center.

Final Thought: Thank you for being a great generation of Denisonians. I feel fortunate to be part of this great college. I am excited for the semester in front of us.