Writing Our Story


Karen Wheeler

Publication Date


Coverage Date Range


Document Type



Ms. Wheeler begins her oral history by describing the high schools she attended, their socio-economic and cultural characteristics, and her extracurricular activities. She tells the story of how she decided to attend Denison. Ms. Wheeler discusses her expectations of coming to Denison, and expresses surprise at some of the racial challenges in the fall of her freshman year. She talks about her time at Denison being in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Bakke case, concerning affirmative action in higher education admissions, and Ms. Wheeler speaks highly of Denison President Good’s support for an inclusive admissions approach. She discusses some of the implications of the shift in power nationally from Democrats to Republicans. She recalls being somewhat surprised at the amount of wealth on campus, as indicated by the kinds of cars some students drove. Ms. Wheeler describes the numerous organizations and activities she was involved in at Denison. She contrasts her own comfort at being in an environment like Denison with the experience of some other African American students who decided to leave the university. Ms. Wheeler describes the different nature of black student protest in the early ‘80’s versus the late 60’s and early ‘70’s. She speculates that her generation was able to take a less confrontational approach because they had a generally supportive administration in Dr. Good. Ms. Wheeler goes on to credit Dr. Good for his leadership in the South African student exchange program. She describes the power of the Black community at Denison as being significant, building on the efforts and legacy of earlier Denison students. Ms. Wheeler discusses the strengths and weaknesses of bringing the BSU and DISA (Denison International Students Association? under the rubric of the Multiculturalism Office. She observes that since the ‘80’s, Denison shifted it’s student recruitment strategy, resulting in a different demographic profile of many Denison students, which may have had implications for some of the subsequent racial incidents or intergroup conflicts. Ms. Wheeler talks of the BSU as a safe place, a home, and a hub of social and community activities, and elaborates on the BSU’s concerns with recruitment and retention of African American faculty. She characterizes the BSU’s ideology in the early ‘80’s as liberal, in the sense of using conventional methods to bring about social change. Ms. Wheeler shares her opinions on some of the writings in The Vanguard and Black Rage. She recounts author Tony Cade Bambara’s visit to Denison and the influence she had on Ms. Wheeler to this day as an educator. Ms. Wheeler talks of being a student who wondered whether there was disparate treatment of black and white students by the administration in certain matters. She credits black student efforts of the early ‘80’s with helping prod the university to improve with respect to minority faculty recruitment and retention, as well as staff in student life and admissions. And Ms. Wheeler discusses dangers of an attitude shift in the university environment, away from direct negative responses or incidents, and toward an attitude that things are now equal and that there is no further need for redress.

Is a Part of

Writing Our Story


Denison University


Denison University


Wheeler, Karen (oral history)


Denison University

Repository Publisher

Denison University


Butler, Vanessa


Wheeler, Karen

dwos_WheelerFull_20100722.mp3 (89030 kB)
Karen Wheeler Interview Audio File