With sunglasses on top of her head and two golden retrievers named Dillon and Hope, Kate Kenny can be seen with her husband leisurely strolling around campus. “My husband and I can’t walk across campus without getting stopped,” Kenny said in a joking tone.
She has had the title of dean of students and vice president of student affairs for three years, but has been working at Wheaton for seven years. She’s in charge of several departments that focus on helping students. Throughout her time at Wheaton and through her PhD dissertation work, Kenny has wanted to provide positive change on campus.
“I think it’s important as leaders, especially in the role that I’m in, to be able to look at what’s happening and determine ‘is it good enough?’ and ‘how can we make it better?’ And so that involves sometimes making drastic changes.”
After spearheading projects on topics that range from gender and sexual violence to the May Fellows to CORE, Kenny finds herself working with students, faculty and staff to create and reinforce community. “I try and get feedback. I want to hear the needs of the students and what can we do to make their experience better or more fulfilling. And at the same time look at what we should stop doing that isn’t working anymore. It’s really looking from a holistic view.”
This past Saturday Dean Kenny was informed of posters that had been posted around campus that were labeled “PUNCH NAZIS IN THE FACE.” The decision to take down the posters came after several Wheaton students had reached out to President Hanno and Public Safety, expressing concern for their safety. “We decided that we wanted to take them down as well as [state that] we have a commitment to our community that we will share information about this when they impact people in the community,” she said.
After an email sent by Dean Kate, student response was mixed, some claiming that Kenny’s decision was right, however it condoned anti-Semitism. “We’ve come out against a lot of things continually; whether it’s from the president, the provost or me throughout the last academic year,” Kenny said. “My hope is that people believe what we stand for and what we don’t. And every message isn’t going to say everything all the time. We learn from the feedback of what we could do better next time, and we will certainly consider it next time… That call to action is just not something that we want to have as a call to action on campus. Violence against others in any way, shape or form is not okay. And I think that’s the hard part.”
Kenny ultimately promotes dialogue between students. “We have lots of opportunities [to have discussions] both in the classroom and on our campus. And I just want to encourage people to engage in that way if they so choose to do that. I think you can live on this campus and not engage in difficult conversations on topics that you may not understand or be comfortable with, but my hope would be that every time something happens both locally and globally, there is an opportunity to engage in a setting that you probably wouldn’t otherwise get.”
While Dean Kenny’s job provides many challenges, she says she enjoys it greatly and loves how every day proves to be new and exciting. “I have some days the best and the worst job,” she said. “I get to hear things that are not good for people or see students who might be in a really difficult space mentally or physically, but then I get to say their names when they cross the stage.”