Darrien Davenport was in employee relations and human resources in corporate America when the 2008 recession hit. His company laid off 40 percent of its workforce, and Davenport was one of the bearers of the worst news.
“It was the hardest thing ever—to sit across from someone you know personally, someone whose situation you know, and have that [termination] conversation. I said, ‘I don’t like this. This is not what I want to do with my life.’”
Davenport went in search of purposeful work, and he found it in higher education.
The time he spent working in diversity and inclusion and teaching as an adjunct faculty member for Duquesne University helped in the transition. Davenport joined York College and advanced to become assistant dean of student affairs, while also overseeing enrollment management.
“For me, the satisfaction of working with students was everything I needed. This was my purpose. There has never been a night since then that I have settled into my bed and questioned my purpose.”
Davenport became Gettysburg College’s first executive director of multicultural engagement in October, after a national search. He leads a newly reorganized effort that focuses on traditionally underrepresented— multicultural and international—and first-generation students.
“For more than two decades, the Intercultural Resources Center (IRC) has played a key role in helping to recruit and retain a diverse student body. As our student population continues to become more diverse, we have broadened our focus,” said Vice President for College Life and Dean of Students Julie Ramsey. “Darrien brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in his work with multicultural programming, diversity education, and strategic planning.”
By reorganizing the IRC and international student services, the new office can better serve the needs of the College’s 350 or so traditionally underrepresented students.
While it was hard for Davenport to leave York, he was drawn to Gettysburg by the College’s vision and commitment. “I think that what President [Janet Morgan] Riggs has provided us by way of leadership and direction is very brave—that diversity, equity, and inclusion is something we are committed to at the highest level,” he said.
Davenport was a first-generation student himself. He grew up in Philadelphia and earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from West Chester University, completing his master’s in leadership and business ethics from Duquesne University and his doctorate in higher education administration from Northeastern University.
“We need to make sure that all of our students have a great experience here—that every student has a chance to investigate who they are as individuals and has access to the resources available at Gettysburg College. I think we can do that,” said Davenport.
What differences would an alumna or alumnus find between what they know as the IRC and the Office of Multicultural Engagement?
“Pete Curry has built such a great foundation at Gettysburg through his work mentoring generations of students through the college transition,” Davenport said. “This place has so much energy. My aim is to build on that foundation by expanding and enhancing our social and educational programs to build connections.”
The expansion will go beyond programming elements and will include a newly renovated building at 102 W. Water Street that includes administrative, social, and residential space.
Davenport says environment and teamwork are crucial.
“Something that was important to me in coming here was who was in with me—who is helping? Who’s helping to drive this car? Monique [Gore ’06], Olga [Smith], Pete [Curry], and Brad [Lancaster]—all of these folks are so student-focused.”
They prioritize personal and academic advising to ensure student success. Curry works with first-year students and community-based organizations. Gore and Davenport work with sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and Lancaster focuses on international students.
Davenport summarizes the work ahead in three broad categories: connecting to academic and other support services for students, expanding support for students, and expanding programs and offerings.
“We want to work with other departments to help students know about and feel comfortable using the services they offer, be it the library, or career development, or other resources. The College has made an intentional effort to provide services to all students, but the students may feel tentative about reaching out.
“Being someone, myself, who knows how it feels to not be able to go to certain places because of how I look, I think we can be an office that helps get the students to the resources and services.”
And as the College strives for an even more diverse and culturally enlightened community, Davenport is throwing open the doors.
“It’s about all of us celebrating our cultures—and everyone possesses culture. We need to allow people the opportunities to investigate that culture. Hopefully, all students will feel like they can come here and contribute and grow—and continue to learn more about themselves.
“I don’t want students in their final year to think, ‘I just want to get out of here’ or ‘I’m just doing my time. I’m ready to go.’ no. That should not be a student’s experience. There should be something in their soul that lets them feel they have a connection to the place.
“Everyone here is Gettysburg, correct? It’s getting people to think that way. Our differences should not divide us. We are all here. We are all Gettysburg.”