VT Stories Oral History with Karen DePauw, November 21, 2017 (Ms2016-015)

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Karen DePauw, born in Los Angeles, California, began her journey in higher education at Whittier College, majoring in Sociology. After graduating, she worked in special education at Los Angeles County Schools for several years before deciding to continue her education. She attended California State University, Long Beach, obtaining a MS in Special Education. After, she went on to complete a Ph.D. in Kinesiology at Texas Woman’s University, defending in 1980.

In her professional career in higher education, DePauw moved to Washington State University, as a professor in the Kinesiology and Leisure Studies Department. While there, she worked her way up through the graduate school, all the while teaching, eventually being appointed to the Dean of the Graduate School in 1999. Several years later, she was nominated for the Dean of Graduate Education at Virginia Tech.

However her decision to leave was not without trouble. Upon the nomination, DePauw faced backlash for her sexual orientation, including hateful emails, her partner Shelli Fowler being denied a position, and intolerant faculty/staff. Though this did not deter her, where DePauw officially arrived in Blacksburg in 2002 as a professor and dean, with her partner (who would soon be appointed to a tenure track position).

In this special interview, DePauw reflects on her 15 years spent at Virginia Tech, including the tragedies, successes, and progress made. All throughout the interview, she emphasizes how her background in social justice permeated her work in transforming graduate life, and the role graduate students serve in inspiring and pushing the university.


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Karen DePauw