DePaul University’s Commitment to Diversity with The Rev. Dr. Dennis H. Holtschneider, President, DePaul University


Dennis H. Holtschneider: Works of Niagara Foundation are outstanding accomplishments.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. I would like to thank Kemal Oksuz and the Niagara Foundation for inviting me to speak to you today. The Niagara Foundation and its parent company, Niagara Educational Services have accomplished a great deal for the short time and they have been in Chicago. Serving students by tutoring in mathematics, computer education, the SAT and TOEFL tests as well as through the establishment of the Science Academy of Chicago, whose students have gone on to great success in universities all over the United States, are outstanding accomplishments.

I am honored to have been chosen to address this forum and find that in this luncheon series I am in company with such other distinguished Chicagoans as Martin Marty of the University of Chicago, Emily Barr of WLS Channel 7, Marshall Bouton of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, John Rowe of Exelon and Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Corps in this luncheon series.

Eboo Patel is particularly well-known to us at DePaul University thought collaboration with his Interfaith Youth Corps. Last year the Interfaith Youth Corps and DePaul brought together hundreds of religiously diverse high school and university students from around the city for a service project at the Martin Luther Kind Jr. Day of Interfaith Youth Service. We also collaborate on the Chicago Youth Council, which is an intensive interfaith, leadership development, service-learning program for Chicago area high school students. The Chicago Youth Council grew out of the Martin Luther King Day event and, in partnership with DePaul, has brought together young leaders during the winter and spring quarters of the last academic year. We are proud to be associated with this fine organization and look forward to collaborating with them in the future.

I have been asked to speak to you today on DePaul University’s “Commitment to Diversity”. DePaul is the largest private university in the Midwest, and the largest Catholic University in the nation. But there has never been a day in our history when we were only for Catholics. The University’s entire history in Chicago is deeply and consistently intertwined with the idea of diversity.

Our namesake, St. Vincent DePaul, devoted his life and his ministry to serving the poor. He instilled a love of God in his contemporaries by leading them in serving urgent human needs. We are dedicated to serving the city of Chicago, our home. When the university was founded in 1898, the Vincentian fathers and brothers chose to follow Vincent’s example by opening a university to provide high-quality education to Chicago’s early immigrants and minorities, and women.

Our College of Law has provided lawyers and judges for our courts; the School of Education has provided teachers for our schools; the College of Commerce has graduated some of Chicago’s best known business men and women and our schools of theater and music have enriched the cultural life of this city beyond measure. As it has fulfilled its Catholic, Vincentain, urban mission over the past century, DePaul has been ever mindful of the wide range of people it served.

DePaul was the first institution of higher learning in Chicago to welcome Catholic and Jewish. We were the first to admit women students as equals. Or early student bodies reflected Chicago’s immigrant population at the turn of the 20th century – Irish, Polish, Italian, Czech, Greek – groups who were not welcome at other universities. These students were for the most part the first in their families to attend college.

DePaul University was diverse before the word ‘diversity’ came to occupy our thoughts as it does today. So, yes, we have had a commitment to diversity for over a century, indeed for our whole existence as a university.

Today, our students are now African-American, Hispanic, Turkish, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Vietnamese, as well as new generations of Polish, Russian and other white ethnic immigrant students. They are still in many cases the first in their families to attend college, and they are still becoming our lawyers, teachers, business people and artists/ The composition of our student body may change, but our commitment to educating the underserved has remained steady.

DePaul University is a campus where we currently have a two Islamic prayer rooms; a space for Hillel, the Jewish student organization; a place for the Buddhist students to mediate, a place for the Christian organizations to gather, and for the Catholic students to have daily Mass. We teach Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, Catholic studies. We are hoping to begin an Abrahamic Studies major that would bring together Muslim, Jewish and Christian students. We have a Multi-Cultural Center, a Center for the Black Diaspora, and a thriving Study Abroad program which sends our students and faculty all over the world.

And so, it wasn’t a complete surprise when DePaul was recently this past summer by the Princeton Review as first in the nation in its ‘Diverse Student Population’ category. Certainly, they recognized our long history of being a welcoming place for immigrants and first generation students. They recognized that 32 % of the freshmen are students of color, and that we are considered a safe and respectful place for our gay and lesbian students as well.

But the Princeton Review didn’t name us first, merely because so many families send us their children to education. No, this distinction was the result of a survey of more than 115.000 college students nationwide at 361 top schools, and they determined that DePaul faculty and staff make DePaul a welcome place for each one of our students. We strive to be a place where the world’s diverse communities are represented and a university where all students, faculty and staff are respected. For DePaul, nothing short of achieving this ideal will suffice.

Diversity is more than numbers of diverse students, and a welcoming atmosphere. Diversity doesn’t mean much if you don’t learn from it. There’s a chance that our students can learn from one another, and that’s our most important objective. We actively encourage our students to interact with each other, and this process should continue for a student’s entire time at our institution.

The truth about diversity, though, is that it’s messy and sometimes difficult to achieve. When we bring all these disparate student groups together in Lincoln Park or the Loop they don’t always get along with each other as well as we would like, just as in our greater American society we don’t always get along either. The most important thing about diversity is not ‘keeping the peace,’ it’s helping students to learn from their disagreements.

In the past two years, we have had to confront some contentious and disturbing incidents at DePaul: protests surrounding an exhibit of Palestinian art and its accompanying historical texts an “Affirmative action” bake sale sponsored by an organization that opposed affirmative action and was insulting to our African-American students; swastikas and anti-Semitic symbols painted on the walls of dorms and campus buildings/ Every school experiences these kinds of things from time to time. What’s important to us at DePaul is that we move swiftly to restate our values about true human community, and to offer our students a chance to learn from this. In fact when this last incident occurred, I broke off my New York trip and returned to campus in order to conduct a prayer vigil with our students, faculty and staff and to meet with the police as they began their investigation. Diversity, then, sometimes causes conflicts that keep us engaged in educating our student on this key issue.

We all talk about wanting more diversity as if it were a commodity that can be acquired. And I think we are all agreed that interaction with people of dissimilar backgrounds and beliefs should reinforce in all of us the basic humanity and dignity of all people. But are we really open to interracial, inter-ethnic, inter-religious life?

We can learn about other cultures through their music, their literature, their food, their art. But is eating in ethnic restaurants or listening to World Beat on WBEZ enough? Are we really aware of the sometimes profound differences in world view, morality, and social mores that can often mystify, challenge, anger and therefore separate us?

Do we back away from discussion of the mistakes of the past, such as the Holocaust, or our nation’s acceptance of slavery or our terrible treatment of Native Americans? In not confronting these things are we in fact engaging in a process of forgetting them and therefore repeating them? Think of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and the immense degree of courage it took for blacks and whites to look beyond racial stereotypes and to tell their stories to each other in order to forgive past injustices and cruelties.

Answering these questions lies at the heart of our commitment to diversity. I don’t have the answers yet, but I can assure you that all of us at DePaul work at it each day. I want DePaul University to be diverse, but I want us to go beyond statistics and numbers and aspire to real understanding and respect for differences. I want to prepare our students to go out into the world when they graduate and have the ability to go deeper to explore and if necessary overcome the differences of religious belief, and racial and cultural identity that they will inevitably encounter among their fellow human beings.

We are living at a time when diversity is in the news. We talk quite a bit about equal opportunity, the global village, doing business internationally, but synagogues are still vandalized, people don’t want mosques in their communities, racial profiling exists and our best instincts toward acceptance and understanding are challenged by religious extremism, racial and ethnic violence, and civic dialogue that is anything but civil. I think our students need to be prepared for that and they need to have the tools and the desire to try to change it.

I have told you how I view DePaul University’s commitment to diversity. I am proud that the Princeton Review thinks that DePaul is the best in the country at building a diverse campus. But I know that we have constant work to do, using our diversity to educate ourselves and each other.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I consider our organizations have shared goals. I have great respect for the work your organization undertakes, and I look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead. Minimally, I hope we can continue to sponsor gatherings such as this that encourage the kind of inter—religious conversations that will challenge and enlighten us. God bless you.

November 8, 2006

11:30am- 1:00pm

205 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 4240
Chicago, IL, US, 60601

[nggallery id=12]

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.