April 28, 2023

Diversity Walk Dedicated to Former Senator Andy Dinniman at WCU:

First Annual Community Gathering for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity Held

The West Chester University community gathered to unveil “Diversity Way” in honor of former State Senator Andrew Dinniman. Pictured (l to r) immediately following the unveiling are West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino and Former State Senator Andrew Dinniman.

More than 100 citizens, students, faculty, and staff gathered on West Chester University’s (WCU) campus recently to unveil “Diversity Way,” a popular campus thoroughfare between The Sciences & Engineering Center and The Commons (SECC) and Lawrence Hall, in honor of the impactful work that continues to be done by former State Senator Andrew Dinniman.

 “This is an exciting chapter in the University’s history,” said West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino in his opening remarks. “Senator Dinniman is the kind of person who isn’t letting a little thing like retirement stop him from pursuing a more equitable Pennsylvania. We were more than happy to open our doors to this idea and the Together Fund, and we are so proud to partner with him.

“Here at the University, we’re laser-focused on students and their success, but also on preparing them to contribute to the common good after graduation,” he added. “We’re committed to prioritizing the principles of inclusivity, service and academic excellence.”

 State Representative Chris Pielli, who serves Chester County District 156, was among the many who came out to pay tribute to the longstanding former senator. Pielli presented a special citation to Dinniman for his unyielding work in the community.

Dinniman, who noted that he had “a mustache and long hair” when he first became part of the University community in 1971, spoke of his love of WCU and how he initially worked with faculty to create a course in human relations.

Noting the critical roles of Drs. Clifford DeBaptiste, James Trotman and Christian Awuyah in helping to lay the groundwork necessary to launch the University’s successful Frederick Douglass Institute, Dinniman stated, “Our goal is to take the philosophy and principles of Frederick Douglass and make them meaningful today. We need to respect the Earth and the people who live on the Earth; that is what our forum is all about. We are trying to come up with new ideas --- the use of DNA that Dr. Foeman and Dr. Lawton have been champions of; the use of the story that Dr. Hardy shares with us; and the use of social media that Deb Ciamacca will help us understand.”

Following the dedication, audience members participated in the First Annual Community Gathering for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity a forum that was planned and organized by an eclectic 52-member citizen committee led by Dinniman to promote diversity and equity through a renewed emphasis on common humanity.

Mayor of West Chester Borough Lillian DeBaptiste opened the forum reflecting on the longstanding contributions and collaborative work performed between her father, Dr. Clifford DeBaptiste, former mayor of West Chester Borough, and the former senator, Andrew Dinniman. “Clifford DeBapiste and former Senator Andy Dinniman made such an impact on this community together one Black, one White. Together, they worked to make a difference. They walked the walk and they talked the talk from diverse backgrounds…I get to stand on their shoulders, and it is because of them that I can do my part in ensuring that all our voices are heard; that all our voices are valued. We all can make a difference.”

Afternoon presentations and follow-up discussions explored new approaches to develop increased respect and understanding among all citizens in the Chester County community as well as in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

State Representative Chris Pielli, Chester County District 156, presented a special citation to Former State Senator Andrew Dinniman for his relentless work in Chester County and beyond. Pictured (l to r) West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino, Former State Senator Andrew Dinniman, and State Representative Chris Pielli.

Professor Emerita Anita Foeman and Professor Bessie Lawton, both from WCU’s Department of Communication Studies, shared their work with the DNA Discussion Project; the nationally-acclaimed research project has encouraged thousands of people to engage in genetic testing followed by reveal-results and post-dialogues that challenge deeply entrenched stereotypes. Also conveying the importance about commonalities was Professor Emeritus Charles Hardy, III, who detailed how historical research, through the form of the story, can help people make sense of each other’s life experiences. Deb Ciamacca, a former Marine Corps officer, business executive and retired social studies teacher, detailed the pros and cons of social media, and suggested working together to actively post numerous stories about human experiences to counter negativity.

A flyer shared with those in attendance stated the goal of the Dinniman Together Fund, which endows the forum: “In preparation for the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026, we will use new ideas, such as storytelling and DNA analysis, to bring Chester County communities together. We will educate, engage, and unite the people of Chester County as we continue our journey toward a more perfect union.”

Dinniman concluded the forum by calling all members of the audience to the stage to join hands and sing several versus of “We Shall Overcome.” 

More About The Together Fund

The First Annual Community Gathering was brought to Chester County by the Dinniman Together Fund at West Chester University (WCU). The focus of the fund is to promote diversity and equity through a renewed emphasis on our common humanity. More than a century following the final public speech of Frederick Douglass on the campus of West Chester State Normal School on February 1, 1895, the Dinniman Together Fund continues the conversation by providing resources to support an annual gathering where the research and teaching knowledge of WCU faculty (past and present) may be shared with the greater Chester County community.

The Together Fund is, in part, designed to build on Dr. DeBaptiste’s generosity by taking the legacy of Douglass from the campus into the greater community. Former State Senator Andrew E. Dinniman raised more than $100,000 to create the Dinniman Together Fund at West Chester University (WCU).

Additional information about the First Annual Community Gathering for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity as well as The Together Fund established by Senator Dinniman and his friends.

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