From Denison Posse #1 to Director of Multicultural Student Affairs

Director of Multi-Cultural Student Affairs Thomas Witherspoon ’05 engages with team during a staff meeting. Photo Credit: Trixie Cortes ’18

From Denison Posse #1 to Director of Multi-Cultural Student Affairs: A Conversation with Dr. Thomas Witherspoon ’05

Dr. Thomas Witherspoon ’05 has returned to the Denison community as the Associate Dean of Students and Director of Multi-Cultural Student Affairs. Thomas returns to Denison with over a decade of experience as a higher education professional focusing on underserved populations, most recently as an Assistant Dean of Students at Dartmouth College where he supported student persistence. He has also served in Cultural Education and Admission roles at Providence College and Boston University, respectively. Witherspoon’s experience is not limited to college campuses. He also has experience working in college access roles in KIPP and as the Program Director for The Posse Foundation. (In fact, Dr. Witherspoon was a member of Denison’s first Posse cohort from Chicago in 2001.) In addition to his Denison degree in English, Thomas holds a Doctorate of Education from New England College and a Master of Arts from Northeastern Illinois University.

In each of these roles, Dr. Witherspoon has created programming that directly benefits students. Denison students who were fortunate to meet and work with Dr. Witherspoon over the summer have really enjoyed the experience. Armando Roman ’19, co-coordinator of Paving the Way Orientation and President of La Fuerza Latina, shares his experience working with Witherspoon this summer: “Working with Dean Witherspoon has been great. He brings a new fresh excitement to the position. I’m very pleased with the efforts he has made this summer to reach out to student leaders across campus in getting to know them and the issues their respective organizations/groups face on Denison’s campus. He is great at empathetic listening.”

“Denisonians leave their mark on the world. I want to ensure that I support students as they find their voices, elevate their passions and lead us into a better tomorrow.”

Dr. Witherspoon cares deeply about using evidence-based interventions to increase retention rates and support the persistence of all students. He has committed his talents to promoting access and equity in higher education, supporting college-age students in pursuit of reaching their optimal potential. And within moments of meeting him, his commitment to supporting student success is clear. Dajia Dampeer ’18, co-coordinator of Paving the Way Orientation, shares her experience working with Dr. Witherspoon this summer: “Working with Dr. Witherspoon has been exciting. He has a lot of new, great ideas for the MCSA and for this year’s Paving the Way Pre-Orientation. His excitement and eagerness to work with the students makes for better communication and learning to happen. Dr. Witherspoon is a great addition to our campus. I look forward to all of the great things that are to come in the next year.” 

We had a chance to ask Dr. Witherspoon some questions about his return to Denison and his work with students.

What do you most want to share about your work?

Witherspoon: My approach is student centered, individual centric and both skill and action oriented. My work with students is very personal because I am invested in their long-term development academically, professionally and personally. I believe that Denisonians leave a mark on the world in unique ways, and I want to ensure that I am supporting students as they find their voices, elevate their passions and lead us into a better tomorrow. 

What are you most excited about?

Witherspoon: I am most excited to engage with students, building community and discovering new ways to translate the Denison experience to the world around us. I know that Denison is not perfect, and it is a work in progress, like many of our students. Similarly, I believe that these entities are inherently good, desiring to do good and see good in our world. I look forward to helping both the institution and students reflect, ask tough questions and charge forward and thrive. 

What goals do you have for this first year?

Witherspoon: My goal for the first year is to be available, listen attentively and respond supportively. I plan to focus considerable attention on persistence, exploration and building trust. My goals are primarily centered around the success of students and allowing students to define success through exploration and experiences. I plan to focus on strategies to ensure students leave campus with skills, confidence, and options.

What do you like to do for fun?

Witherspoon: I love learning, so I view my work as fun. I spend time with smart people all day helping to make the campus and the world better. Off campus, I love working out, traveling, cooking and spending time with “Ghost,” my English Bulldog. I am family oriented, and since my family resides in Chicago, I spend a lot of time on the phone either checking in or being checked on. I truly believe I am an extrovert by day and an introvert by night, where I love sitting at home reading, watching mindless television or listening to music. 

How does being an alum inform your work?

Witherspoon: Denison faculty and staff poured into me with the gift of time. As an alum, I understand firsthand the power of that investment. This investment challenged my perspectives and encouraged me to be reflective and critical. Not only does my experience inform my work, but my experience at Denison also informs how I move in the world, how I support people, how I nurture relationships and how I see my impact on the world. I plan to invest the same energy that was invested in me into future Denisonians.

What piece of advice would you give to current Denisonians, that you wish you had known when you were in their shoes? 

Witherspoon: Don’t rush through your experience. During the earlier part of my Denison experience, college felt transactional but the more I invested in the community, the more I learned about myself. So invest in the community early because it can be transformational. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Witherspoon: My Denison experience gave me the language to speak my passion into existence, the community to support those passions and the vision to see what impact I could have on the world. I loved the highs and lows, and I am a better man because of my Denison experience. 

August 9, 2017