2023 Student Journalism Award, Portfolio: Student finalist

The Long Shadow of White Supremacy at DePaul

About the Project

This longform, multi-year investigation breaks down the history — and mythology — of the largest Catholic university in the country, DePaul University, and its relationship with the Congregation of the Mission, the Catholic order that formed the school in 1898. After the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians, announced in summer 2021 that the organization historically had close ties with slavery and human trafficking in Missouri, efforts were undertaken by different parties at the university to grapple with its newly discovered past.

The story, “The Long Shadow of White Supremacy at DePaul,” uses archival imagery and documents, intensive interviews and photojournalism to highlight how this history of white supremacy wasn’t hidden, but instead an open secret within the Vincentian order among priests and the leaders of the university, and how white supremacy reaches farther into DePaul’s recent history than many would like to believe.

The investigation uncovered original documents and memos outlining discriminatory admissions practices at DePaul University through its first fifty years as an institution, with a key group of university officials discussing ways that Black students had been discouraged from attending and proposing hurdles and barriers for them in the future. It also uncovered how DePaul was not only host to school-sponsored blackface minstrel performances well into the 1950s, but how the tradition hails back to the Vincentians’ training grounds in Missouri, with priests and priests-in-training performing blackface minstrel performances to largely white audiences on the grounds built by people they enslaved.

The investigation also doesn’t just keep things in the past, but brings themes and documents from the early 20th century into the present. It looks at issues impacting the university community today, including issues with faculty and student diversity, retention and success metrics with Black students, and the efforts that the university has — and hasn’t — made to mitigate the issues it contributed to. The story ultimately is a hard, long-overdue look at the university’s history, and how we can reconcile that past with the present day.