A Brief History of MultiCulturalism at DePaul

In honor of DePaul's Centennial

as published in the special Centennial edition of the DePaulia, September 4, 1998

Ever since its now-legendary beginnings in 1898, DePaul's student body has had an element of diversity. Kathryn DeGraff, a University Archivist from the Special Collections and Archives Department, notes that DePaul's 1907 charter had a clause stating that DePaul would "provide, impart, and furnish opportunities for all departments of higher education to persons of both sexes on equal terms." Apparently these words have a different meaning in the late 1990s than they did in the late 1900s.
Gathering information on a topic such as DePaul's racial make-up throughout its history proved quite daunting. Accurate, in-depth records of such information were not officially kept until the mid 1970s. Despite this obstacle, however, historians have found other, clever methods to assist in forming an approximate picture of DePaul's ethnological composition.
DePaul's first yearbook was published in 1924 with the name it retains today, the DePaulian. Photos and indices proved to be helpful in identifying students' backgrounds. Additionally, enrollment lists are available, along with alumni directories. Each of these resources provides a notable degree of insight into DePaul's ethnic make-up.

In Chapter Five of the forthcoming book, "Centennial," John Rury, Professor of Education, notes that when St. Vincent's College (it took the name DePaul University with the 1907 charter), was established, the student body was predominantly Catholic, and, like the faculty, entirely male. However, another characteristic that these students shared was also a primary feature of the general population of Chicago at the time: their immigrant backgrounds. Going by the last names on enrollment lists, it is revealed that nearly half of the were of Irish descent, about another third were German, and the rest were a varied mix, with a large representation of Canadian, British, and Italian.

Students of both Latin and Asian heritage were present at DePaul as early as 1912. This is evidenced by the DePaul Alumni Directory of that year, which was categorized by students' home countries.

Analyzing surnames in the DePaulian, as Mr. Rury explains in his chapter, shows that, in both 1925 and 1930, over half of all of the seniors, in all branches of the university, had surnames that could be "classified as being English or Irish in origin, while one-quarter had names that could be described as German or Jewish." Around 10 percent featured last names that were "clearly Eastern European (mostly Polish), or Mediterranean (especially Italian)."

Jewish students have been a significant part of the fabric of DePaul's student body at least as far back as 1913. In that year, the Illinos College of Law, which had a large Jewish population, was acquired by DePaul. For several decades, Judaism remained the dominant religion of those that were non-Catholic at DePaul, which began collecting information on students' religious preferences as early as the 1930s.

Coeducation officially began with the 1907 charter, although the female population was miniscule. By the late 1920s, between 30 and 40 percent of DePaul's student body on the Webster Avenue campus were women. At the time, this was revolutionary, as DePaul was the only large commuter school on Chicago's North Side that was coed.

Yearbooks show that African-American students were attending DePaul as early as the mid 1930s. However, their size increased substantially in the 1940s, especially after World War II, when "DePaul dropped its policies that discouraged black enrollment," wrote Dr. Rury in his chapter. In 1960, the university counted 150 black students, and in an official census in 1969, there were almost 500.

That year, an event occurred which altered the multicultural history of DePaul. On May 8th of 1969, wrote Dr. Rury, members of the Black Student Union (BSU) "secured" the SAC building, blocking entrances so that students and university personnel could not enter. However, this lasted just one day, and the BSU had succeeded in drawing attention to its issues, which included black representation on student organizations and university committees, delegation of office space for black organizations, housing, changes in the university's curriculum and faculty, and other issues of equity. These issues were addressed in several heavily-attended rallies in the days following the "sit-in" of SAC, and many changes were brought about.

Another event on a similar note happened in 1995. After a party thrown by HouseCall in February in which a fight broke out, a story was written about it in the DePaulia. Zack Martin, who was the Editor in Chief of the DePaulia at the time, remembers that "the African-American community as a whole had two problems with the story: the use of the term M/B, which is a police term for 'male black,' and a lack of comment from the black community on the incident."

Editorials and apologies were exchanged for several weeks. Then, in April, 20-30 students from Concerned Black Students (CBS) came down to the DePaulia's office in University Hall to stage a "sit-in." Publication fo the DePaulia was suspended, and CBS "stayed for 10 days, 24/7," related Martin.

"There were many mistakes made on all sides through the course of these events," noted Martin, who also believes that the "biggest fault lays with the University's handling of these events, and the demands of CBS."

Other student groups developed cultures that overlap with the traditional notion of culture that is based on one's nationality. Athletics were an exciting part of collegiate life at DePaul since the 1920s. Greek life, the kind featuring fraternities and sororities, has been around DePaul since this century's first decade. Homosexuals, who have probably been socializing in an underground culture for much of the century at DePaul, were officially recognized and chartered as a student organization as the [**please find actual name of gay org. and place here.]**. The Programs and Organizations Office now counts over 100 student organizations, of which over half are culturally-based in some way.

In addition, there are dozens of resources for the university community to consult for virtually any information on virtually any culture. One of the most prominent is the Cultural Center. Founded in 1995, their mission is to [***note to editor: the following is the actual mission statement from the CC. Feel free to use as much or as little of it as u see fit, including within or external of this article.] "acknowledge and enhance awareness and respect of the various races, cultures, and ethnicities within DePaul University. We define culture as traditions, lifestyles, and beliefs that are shaped by historical events, including struggles and triumphs. It is the acknowledgement and understanding of these histories, contributions, expressions, and worldviews that are important elements in academia and necessary elements in human life.

"In accordance with this mission we provide cultural enrichment programs and academic projects, coordinate and conduct diversity training and engage in outreach into the diverse Chicago communities. We welcome all."

Today, DePaul remains a leader among private universities in the diversity of its student body, which contributes to an unprecedented atmosphere of multiculturalism in which all members of DePaul's family take pride.