In efforts to focus on diversity and inclusion on campus, Butler University can look back to its roots. From February 2–8, the University will celebrate those ideals during Founder’s Week.
Every year, Butler observes the birthday of its founder, abolitionist Ovid Butler, with a slate of events that remind the campus community of his spirit and founding vision. Since opening in 1855, Butler has invited women and people of color to attend the University—an innovative position for the time.
“When people find out that Butler was founded by an abolitionist in 1855, open from the very beginning for African-Americans and women—and that we have the first endowed chair named after a woman in this country—they are kind of surprised,” says Terri Jett, Associate Professor of Political Science and Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity. “People don’t look to Indiana as being on the forefront of progressive ideas. But it actually was—at least at Butler.”
This year, in honor of the centennial of women winning the right to vote, the week will embrace the theme of “BU | Be Demia”—as in Demia Butler, Ovid’s daughter and the first woman to graduate from Butler’s four-year program. The University also established the first endowed chair in the country for a female professor in Demia’s name. After the Demia Butler Chair of English Literature was created in 1869, Catharine Merrill—the second full-time female professor in the nation at any university—became its first recipient.
Through the image of Demia, this year’s event will honor women through a series of events including a suffragist exhibit in Irwin Library, screenings of the movies On the Basis of Sex and Hidden Figures, a panel discussion about reproductive rights, and a Visiting Writers Series event with award-winning author Carmen Maria Machado. On Thursday, the week’s keynote presentation will feature Butler Speaker’s Lab Director Sally Perkins in a performance of her one-woman play about the suffragist movement, Digging in Their Heels. To wrap up the celebration on Friday, all staff, faculty, and students can receive two free tickets to the February 7 Women’s Basketball game at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“We need to keep recognizing our own history and tradition,” Jett says. “But the values that history was founded on are still in line with the things we focus on today: diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
To help emphasize those ideals throughout the year, the Founder’s Week Committee awards several $1,000 grants to help faculty develop course projects, assignments, or independent studies in ways that incorporate the themes of Founder’s Day. More than 40 faculty members have received these grants, and this year’s celebration showcases three recipients: Ryan Rogers, Peter Wang, and Erin Garriott.
- Rogers, Assistant Professor of Creative Media and Entertainment, and Academic Coordinator of Esports Programs, used the grant to develop a class focusing on themes of diversity and inclusion in esports. Students learned about the relationship between harassment and competition, and that the mediated environment inherent to esports—not seeing your competitor face-to-face—can lead to more dismissal of the other person’s feelings. The class found that female participants were common targets of this harassment. Students then conducted original studies to search for solutions for making the esports industry more welcoming for everyone.
- Wang, Lecturer of Art History, has added a section related to Founder’s Day to his class about American art and visual culture. The assignment asks students to research a female or African-American artist from the Colonial period through the 19th century. “The idea is to re-contextualize the barriers and challenges for these artists around the time when Butler University was established,” Wang says. “If students were in the second half of 19th-century America and were to collect a piece of art made by a woman or an African-American, what would they be looking at?”
- Garriott, a Lecturer in the College of Education, used her Founder’s Day grant to support disability inclusion efforts around campus. She started with the café on Butler’s South Campus, working with staff there to help transform the space into “a place to celebrate people of all abilities.” Now, the café is decorated with artwork from Kelley Schreiner, an artist who has Down Syndrome, and it will soon host a larger exhibition. Garriott also led efforts to raise awareness for the Special Olympics members who take classes in Butler’s Health and Recreation Complex. “Kelley Schreiner now has a poster of her strong self getting ready to lift some weights, which is hanging outside The Kennel,” Garriott explains. “We will have another poster made this semester with Katherine Custer, who is taking the Wagging, Walking, and Wellness Physical Well Being class. Plus, we have created a documentation panel that will hang at South Campus to celebrate our collaboration with Special Olympics Indiana.”
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One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.