Founder’s festivities 2024

Photo by Hannah Barone. 


Four days are working to encapsulate and commemorate Butler University’s history of almost 170 years. Founder’s Celebration — newly hosted by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) — began on Tuesday, Feb. 6, and will run through Friday, Feb. 9. 

Founder’s Celebration — centered around the birthday of the university’s founder, Ovid Butler — has taken various forms since its inception in 1882. The celebration experienced a 47-year hiatus until it returned as “Founder’s Day” in 2013. 

The programming for this year’s Founder’s Celebration includes: an exhibit highlighting Butler’s history; a virtual trivia challenge; an open house for the new I-LEAD space; an assembly on constructive conflict led by Desmond Tutu Peace Lab Director Dr. Siobhan McEvoy-Levy; and a no-sew blanket service project for Horizon House

Gayle O’Hara, head of special collections for Butler Libraries — the department in charge of maintaining the university’s archives — stressed that although Butler’s founding may seem far away, it is particularly important in the wake of anti-DEI legislation to emphasize those principles. 

“We see a lot of people against inclusion now, and that’s getting codified into law in some states,” O’Hara said. “I think we really need to embrace [the founding values] and push that and think about how that founding should play out today in the world that we find ourselves in.” 

In an email to The Butler Collegian, Sally Childs-Helton, professor emerita and former head of special collections, said Founder’s Day was reinstated by then-provost Kate Morris following a racist incident on campus in fall 2012. The incident involved a white male student who complained on a right-wing blog about a political science professor’s request that students use inclusive language in their assignments. The resulting death threats and harassment toward the professor and the political science department spurred Morris and members of Butler’s faculty to bring back Founder’s Day. This version of Founder’s Day began to educate students and other members of the community about the university’s founding values. 

The Division of DEI — a recent addition to the university — has taken up the operation of the Founder’s Celebration this year. This iteration of the event is themed around “Amplifying Our Mission” — referring to the university’s historic mission to provide an education to people of any race or gender. 

As the head of the division, Dr. Khalilah Shabazz, vice president and chief diversity officer (CDO), wants the Founder’s Celebration to foster community-building, education and awareness at Butler. 

“[The events are about] getting people engaged more deeply into the founding,” Shabazz said. “ … We wouldn’t be at Butler if it weren’t for the founding, right? That’s the foundation of who we are.” 

Childs-Helton and special collections assistant Megan McKee created the Founder’s Celebration history exhibit — which will be displayed in the Reilly Room for the duration of the celebration — several years prior to Childs-Helton’s retirement. As Childs-Helton’s successor, O’Hara worked with McKee and the Division of DEI to put up the exhibit this year. In addition to displaying Butler’s founding, O’Hara said the exhibit includes the darker points in Butler’s history, including the 1927 quota on Black students

“The quota is highlighted in the exhibit to point out … that this was not something that just happened for a little while; this was decades,” O’Hara said. “ … I think that that’s really important that we examine that and that we think about today, are there ways that maybe we’re not always honoring the founding spirit of the university?” 

Additionally, Shabazz will host “DEI In Action: A Forum” on Ovid Butler’s birthday on Feb. 7. At the event, Shabazz will discuss the state of diversity at Butler. 

“I really talked last year about getting my feet wet on campus [as CDO],” Shabazz said. “This time, my perspective will be a little bit broader about some of the actions that we have taken since — such as establishing the diversity, equity and inclusion division — some of the great progress that’s happened around some of the strategic priority five initiatives, some continued challenges that we face as an institution and just some overall goals.” 

The forum will include the presentation of the 2024 DEI Champion Awards and the Ovid Butler Founder’s Award. Last year, these awards were presented at a separate event. As such, despite being titled a “forum,” Shabazz is unsure that there will be an opportunity for community input due to time restrictions. However, she shared that she plans to provide opportunities for public discussion in the future. 

“I don’t know how much time we’ll have for questions and engagement,” Shabazz said. “ … But, one of the things that I plan to share or announce as part of that was some opportunities for … some sort of chat with the CDO, so that I can create continual opportunities for people to informally ask questions and engage with the division.” 

The Founder’s Celebration will end with a service day on Feb. 9 online. Community members will have the opportunity to make no-sew blankets for Horizon House, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide housing assistance to homeless people in central Indiana. 

Senior political science major Rylie Swails is the Community Engagement Program Council’s food pantry and donation coordinator and helped put together the service project. Swails feels that the partnership with Horizon House helps Butler advance its DEI goals as well as benefit the Indianapolis community. 

“I think the Founder’s Day Celebration, as Butler proposes it, is very focused on Butler’s idea of equality in education and not having any discrimination based on race or gender,” Swails said. “ … Working with the DEI office and working with Horizon House is allowing us to kind of further that mission, and also improve our community engagement as a campus.” 

With this most recent installment in the vision for the Founder’s Celebration, the division of DEI has a long history and a large legacy to live up to. O’Hara emphasized the importance of the division’s work on this event in recognizing Butler’s history as an ongoing process. 

“I think it’s great that the Division of DEI is looking to revive [the Founder’s Celebration] and have it be a really meaningful celebration,” O’Hara said. “ … I like the idea that to revive it, to remember the spirit of it and to think about how [Butler’s history] manifests today and how can we make sure that it is like something that’s living and continues to live rather than a part of our past.” 

Tuesday, Feb, 6.-Friday, Feb. 9

Founder’s Day at Butler University: An Exhibit, Atherton Union Reilly Room 

Tuesday, Feb, 6-Thursday, Feb. 8

Take the Butler Trivia Challenge, virtual

Wednesday, Feb. 7 

I-LEAD Open House, Jordan Hall 186, ​​10-11:30 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m.

DEI In Action: A Forum, Atherton Union Reilly Room and livestreamed at, 3:30 p.m. 

Thursday, Feb. 8 

Constructive Conflict and Healing-Centered DEI Engagement: An Interactive Assembly with Dr. Siobhan McEvoy-Levy, Atherton Union Reilly Room and livestreamed at, 3-4:15 p.m. 

Friday, Feb. 9

Founder’s Service Day, Fairview Community Room, 1-4 p.m. 


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