A Tribute to Dr. Karen Dutt-Doner

By Kate Campanaro

Opinion Contributor

I was at Bagel Jay’s in Williamsville a few weekends ago with my two best friends. We were grabbing breakfast before a long day of homework (meaning we just ended up joking around and talking for hours), when one of my favorite people walked in. She had a beaming smile on her face, laughing with her two friends. When I got her attention, she came over to our table with her arms wide open. We chatted about classes, and briefly touched on her latest trip to Nicaragua. Before my friends and I left, we agreed that we’d meet up for lunch soon, because we had a lot to catch up on.

Dr. Karen M. Dutt-Doner, fondly known as DD, was my professor during the fall semester of my freshman year. Her course, FYS 101: Teaching for Equity and Social Justice, focuses on the challenges schools in urban environments face and how we as a society need to advocate for each and every student. We explored the injustices within the education system, talked about what we could do to address the problem, and experienced first hand what it was like to be in the classroom working with students. Through a placement at Buffalo Public School 17, students in Dr. Dutt-Doner’s class spent time with students and teachers living and working in the environments we discussed each day in class.  I met students who wrapped themselves around my heart and haven’t ever let go. I think about those kids and the impact they made on me constantly. My career path, one full of passion for urban education, stems from my class with Dr. Dutt-Doner.

During the spring semester of freshman year, I received an email from the address I’d soon share hundreds of emails with: duttdonk (literally the best abbreviated version of a last name and first initial the Canisius email system has come up with to date). Dr. Dutt-Doner asked me to be her research assistant for the upcoming school year, and without hesitation I said yes. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew that I had to take this opportunity to learn from one of the best. As her research assistant, I studied oral histories and their impact on the classroom. While I was constantly reviewing articles and writing up drafts for the manuscript, this job went beyond the research. It was about talking about life, what was happening to each of us, and developing a bond. It was about the phone call regarding a question I had while she was at home cooking dinner for her family. It was about hanging out in her office up on the eleventh floor of Churchill Tower, laughing about some weird thing that happened during the day. I learned so much as DD’s research assistant. I learned how to submit a manuscript to a journal (we were published for our work last semester), and I became a better writer.

But now I’m out of words. All I want is to send her an email, a text, or stop by her office to ask her where I should begin, as I try to find the words to express what’s inside my head. The deep sadness I have been feeling is apparent in so many other students and faculty members here at Canisius. This type of sadness is never easy, especially when those we love and care for are taken away too soon or so suddenly. I keep trying to tell myself that the heartache only hurts so much because Dr. Dutt-Doner lived a life that touched so many other lives. That the pain stems from the fact that the person we all lost was so inspirational, so caring, and so compassionate that she left an impression on us all. The impact, the legacy, that she has left behind is insurmountable.

I feel so lucky that I got the chance to run into Dr. Dutt-Doner just a few weeks ago that day at Bagel Jay’s. It was a surprise encounter that I am so grateful for, but that doesn’t mean that my heart hasn’t stopped wishing for more time with her.

I’ll miss you so much, DD. I am beyond grateful to have had you as my mentor; to have learned from you, gotten to know you, and now to continue what you started. Canisius will carry on your legacy of compassion and social justice, and from all of us… Thank you, thank you, thank you.



  1. Katie Tierney says:

    I miss her too, Kate. Thank you for sharing this tribute. duttdonk. The absolute best.

  2. Rest in peace Karen. We will never forget you.

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