Strengthening community

The Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning
The Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning was named for President Emerita Dale Rogers Marshall. (Photo by Keith Nordstrom)

There have been only eight presidents at Wheaton College, and Dale Rogers Marshall, our sixth, certainly had a huge impact during her 12 years leading this institution. Since her passing in January we have taken time in many of our virtual meetings to reflect on the role she had here.

Her legacy lives on with the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning and so many initiatives that she had a hand in creating, especially in establishing connections between people and fostering inclusion.

I was not at Wheaton when she was here, but Dale was the kind of person who continued to have a huge presence even after she was no longer president.

She stayed in touch with Wheaton. And, on a personal level, from the minute I became president, she was a constant support, friend and an amazing mentor. I would talk to her numerous times during the year and try to visit her at her home in California once or twice a year. I’m glad I got to see her in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit.

I gained so much insight during our many conversations. One of the biggest takeaways was the importance of building community.

Dale helped build a solid foundation for a campus environment that is diverse, inclusive and equitable. She did this through institutional initiatives, such as cluster hiring to diversify tenure-track faculty, as well as through daily interactions.

From what I understand, Dale always got to know everybody and was always willing to stop and talk. I have followed in her footsteps in this regard because I know that it is those seemingly small interactions that let others know that they are welcomed at Wheaton.

We need to continually strive to make Wheaton a place where everyone not only feels welcomed but, more importantly, knows that they are seen, heard and a valued part of this community.

During the spring semester, I was happy to announce that we have taken a major step toward this goal with the appointment of Dean Shaya Gregory Poku to a new leadership role. She is now the inaugural associate vice president for institutional equity and belonging.

Creating a senior-level position focused on inclusion and equity arises out of our strategic planning process and fulfills one of Wheaton’s 10 action steps toward racial justice developed this year by our Diversity, Equity and Access Leadership team. Poku will oversee the college’s new Office for Institutional Equity and Belonging, which will focus on building new ways of being in community with one another.

Dale—as well as other Wheaton College presidents—built upon the foundation of community, inclusion and equity. That has been a part of the institution’s mission since our start, beginning with providing women access to an equitable education. We need to remain committed to this work by ensuring that a Wheaton education is available and accessible to every person, today and long into the future.