DePauw University inaugurates first female and black president

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GREENCASTLE, Ind. — DePauw University’s 21st president was inaugurated on Friday afternoon, making her the first woman and first person of color to lead the institution.

Lori S. White took office in July 1, 2020, but her inauguration was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was chosen by an 18-member committee on a unanimous vote after working for eight months to decide DePauw’s next leader.

“It’s a particular honor to be the first woman and the first woman of color, particularly because I hope that I represent inspiration for people who might follow me, for young women and for younger people to color to know what’s possible,” White said. “When I got the chance to meet DePauw students and I saw the transformative nature of a DePauw education for them, I thought to myself this is a place I want to be a part of. … this is my last job, so god willing and the creek don’t rise. I’m gonna be here for a long time.”

After the presidential medallion was placed over her head, White said in her speech that she committed to “faithfully exercising all of the rights and privileges that come with the bling that I have just been given and to remember that leadership is most effective when carried out in service to others and for a greater good.”

She immediately began in citing three challenges to higher education to which DePauw must respond: a decline in public trust, a decline in the number and geographic makeup of prospective DePauw students, and the “long-held misunderstanding of the value of the liberal arts.” She said that the answer lies within her and within the hearts of those gathered with her during her inauguration, as well as the community and its people.

“I have every faith that, together, we will rise,” White said.

Student leaders and representatives of Greek organizations, DePauw faculty and staff, alumni and delegates from more than 50 higher education institutions from across the country attended her inauguration alongside White’s family.

One of her former coworkers at Washington University, Holden Thorp, held a keynote speech where he referenced the earliest leaders of DePauw.

“They are smiling because their vision is alive and well and has been entrusted to someone who is uniquely prepared to carry it out and adapt it to today,” Thorp said. “Someone who understands and values the liberal arts tradition while realizing at the same time that it can only survive and thrive when it is honestly interrogated and changed when needed; someone who understands that an institution is not just a bank account and handbook full of policies — that it’s a messy, pulsating group of opinionated, brilliant people who are only trying to change the world.”

As for White, Thorp said, “there is absolutely no one in higher education better prepared to bring and keep a campus together, which is what you hired her to do. You did the right thing because there is no one more honest. No more principled decision-maker. No better cheerleader. No better listener. No better leader. No greater champion for students.”

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