Photo of Karen White
Karen White


Always the First and Always Having to Push and Always Having to Make a Way for Myself and Others”


Karen White, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at Indiana University South Bend and South Bend Common Council At Large, jokes that she has been breaking ground as the first and pushing since her birth when she was the first baby born in the new year, almost arriving in the cab that was rushing her mother to the hospital. One of her first jobs in South Bend was as a telegram operator a job for which Karen was also the “first African American hired, and no one would teach me.” Instead of letting this lack of training stop her, Karen taught herself and became one of the top operators in the company.

Part of Karen’s philosophy of life is “we have to begin to have a better way of working together.” For her, this means not only finding ways around obstacles such as not being trained to do her job, but also creating opportunities for dialogue instead of discord. For example, during her tenure on the Board of Trustees of the South Bend community schools, she woke one day to find picketers in her front yard and approached them with fresh, hot coffee and kind words. For Karen, it is important not to take disagreements like this personally and to allow “individuals to have a right to their beliefs as long as they are respectful.”

Karen continues to give her time to the community through service to multiple organizations and on the South Bend Common Council where she serves as the first African American ever elected at large. When she retires from IU South Bend, Karen plans to start Single Mothers with Purpose, a program to mentor single mothers and help them find opportunities for advancement and betterment within the community, yet again making a way for herself and for others.

  • South Bend Hall of Fame
  • Drum Major Community Service Award
  • Civic Award from the Urban League
  • E. Ross Bartley Memorial Award for meritorious and extraordinary service
  • Charles Nelms Alumni Award for dedication to student success
  • Vice President, Urban Enterprise
  • South Bend Common Council Member At Large, past Vice President and President
  • Board of Trustees, South Bend Community School Corporation
  • Board member, Urban League of Saint Joe County
  • Board member, African American Community Fund
  • Board member, Community Foundation of Saint Joseph County
  • Board member, United Negro Fund
  • Board member, United Way
  • Director, Summer Leadership Academy at Indiana University South Bend

Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project