I met Denice at a reception at the Women’s Studies Center in the fall of 1987 when we were both beginning our tenure track appointments at Madison. There were only a handful of women faculty in the physical sciences, and Denice was the ONLY woman faculty member in the College of Engineering. Someone suggested that the women in physical sciences and engineering should try to get together periodically for mutual support. If my memory is correct, Denice hosted the first evening with wine and cheese at her house, compiled a list on contacts and recruited others to host subsequent gatherings. If it hadn’t been for Denice, the tenure track would have been a much lonlier experience for me and other women who joined the Madison faculty in the late 80s.
Denice was the first female engineering dean at a major, research-intensive university. I was the second and would not have been able to assume this role had it not been for Denice. We overlapped as graduate students at MIT and throughout our professional careers, becoming friends while she was at U Wisconsin and I was at U Texas. Denice was recruiting me to U Washington at the point I was offered the deanship at Johns Hopkins, and we had a nice chance to chat about the advantages and disadvantages of each. She convinced me to give the deanship a whirl and then made sure I understood that I could rely on her for guidance and that I should feel a responsibility to help other women follow us.
Denice was a fixture in my years as dean and later. She was the titular leader of the women who became engineering deans and always welcomed newcomers and made herself available for advice.
And Barbara Waugh said:
Denice Denton and Gretchen Kalonji shared a profound commitment to the world, far beyond the narrow relationship-focused commitment of many high profile couples. They challenge all of us who have experienced discrimination and harrassment in any way to transform the pain into deeper sensitivity and bolder commitment to the struggles of others in our own country and around the world. They modeled not only taking a stand, but with brilliance and political savvy, digging in to wrestle with colleagues, institutions and organizations for sustainable change.
She was a real heroine to me. She was also very special to me because of the importance she had for a very dear friend of mine. She served as a fabulous role model for this friend, showing her that women leaders, women in academic administration, could be successful and have their own unique and funky personal sense of style. You didn’t have to hide the fact that you were female, nor did you have to wear “the uniform”: high heels, pantyhose, tailored suits (which work well for many women and help them to establish authority, but just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea).
Denise dressed with flair, and gave my friend confidence that she could be herself AND be an authoritative, successful administrator.
UCSC has created an anniversary web page that I encourage you to visit. There are links to the original memorial web site and information about the new Denice Denton Prize, awarded this year for the first time.
I wept when I heard the news that Denice was dead. Denice was only four years older than me and yet she had achieved, in her short life. more than I would ever have hoped to have achieved in my entire career. She was responsible for so much change, and so much good, in her life. I hope her life story will always inspire others to continue her work.