Politics professor Tyler Dickovick has died. Here’s how the W&L community is remembering him.

Students, alumni and faculty submitted memories with Dickovick to the Ring-tum Phi. Here are their stories.

Photo courtesy of Washington and Lee University

Photo courtesy of Washington and Lee University

Hannah Denham

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J. Tyler Dickovick, a politics professor at Washington and Lee University, died at the age of 45 on Monday, July 1.

He taught at the university for his entire academic career, since 2004. He is survived by his wife, Alessandra Del Conte Dickovick, who is the assistant director of community-based learning, and daughters Gabriela and Carolina.

An email from university provost Marc Conner and Williams School dean Rob Straughan was sent to the university community on Monday evening saying a candlelight gathering would be held on Tuesday, July 2.

“We are working on plans for a Celebration of Life in the weeks to come,” the email said. “Because Tyler’s students are spread far and wide and many colleagues are travelling, it may make sense to do that in late summer or early fall, around the start of the school year.”

Students, alumni and faculty submitted memories with Dickovick to the Ring-tum Phi. Here are their stories.


Connor Donaldson, ’17, said he took every class that Dickovick taught during his four years.

“He always pushed you to think outside the box and to think about policy within an ecosystem rather than a bubble. He ignited a fire in his students to dig deeper and think harder. He’s irreplaceable and should be remembered as one of the greats to teach at this institution.”


English department chair and professor Genelle Gertz said she was Dickovick’s neighbor and friend.

“When I was a new mother and on my own and the power went out it was Tyler who showed up on my doorstep with candles. He and his wife Alle had me and my infant – then toddler – son Owen to their house probably more times than they would have wished. I felt an unbelievable comfort many days walking a block over to sit on the living room floor chatting with Tyler, watching Owen and Carolina play. His and Alle’s kindness helped me through a grieving process, and helped me concentrate on the small joys, especially those of parenting. I am honored to have known him. There was not a kinder person in this world.”


Rossella Gabriele, ’19, took his global politics and international development classes.

“When I think of someone who should be entrusted with the keys to the world, Professor Dickovick falls to the front of my mind. An incredibly caring and deeply empathetic human with one of the most powerful minds I’ve ever met, Professor Dickovick’s lectures made complex and abstract world problems digestible and real. I adored his stories about his time in the Peace Corps and the lives of the people and the incredible music that he brought to Lexington at the start of every class. Even as he began to lose his mobility, he continued teaching, because that’s the kind of person he was. Professor Dickovick left me in awe as he never seemed to dwell on the things he was losing – always generous with his time, his laughter, unbelievable stories and grace. I am so proud to have had the honor of being his student and will keep his teachings, both in politics and how to live a fundamentally good life, forever. Thank you so much, Professor Dickovick, and all of my love and gratitude to Alessandra and the girls for sharing him with us.”


Chase Flint, ’15, was a student of Dickovick’s global politics class during his first year as a student:

“Professor Dickovick was a fantastic professor who was invested in the success of his students. I have such fond memories of his class during my first year, even despite circumstances in other areas of my life that made that semester more difficult than most. He [made] each student a priority and worked with us to help us find our path to success in his classes and in our time at Washington and Lee. He will be deeply missed in the Washington and Lee community.”


Chris McHugh, ’09, the university’s men’s basketball coach, had Dickovick as an advisor and professor.

“Tyler was the type of professor that makes you proud to be a W&L alum.”


Noelle Rutland Camp, ’17, took Dickovick’s African politics spring-term course:

“Professor Dickovick had an incredible impact on my W&L experience and career trajectory. It was his enthusiastic classroom instruction and genuine passion for the subject that convinced me to declare a Global Politics major. Later in my W&L experience, when I had to make a difficult choice between two internship programs, he thoughtfully listened and advised me. This decision fundamentally shaped my career, allowing me to land my dream job. More importantly, Professor Dickovick was known on campus for his compassion and heart. He was genuinely loved by his students, and he loved us in return. I am very grateful to have known him.”


Former dean of the college and English professor Suzanne Keen remembered her former colleague.

“I remember weeping with laughter listening to Tyler crush the opposition in the Latke-Hammentashen debate. A funnier, kinder, wiser man it is hard to imagine. Brilliant teacher, generous collaborator, doting father, devoted husband.”


HeeJu Jang, ’15, was one of Dickovick’s academic advisees.

I am who I am today as a researcher/political scientist because of him. I only hope that I will live up to his legacy as a teacher, mentor, scientist and friend.”


Asha Campbell, ’17, took his international development class during winter term of 2017:

“Professor Dickovick was one of the best professors I had at W&L – he was patient, kind, brilliant, and always willing to help. I was a general politics major at W&L and heard glowing reviews about Professor Dickovick from my global politics major friends. So I signed up for his International Development class during my senior year winter term and it felt like I was totally out of my element. Every time I went into his office hours, Professor Dickovick would patiently chat with me through my paper topic or the material we had covered in class that week. I feel so fortunate to have had the privilege of knowing him and taking a class with him and am deeply saddened that future students and members of the W&L community will not have the opportunity to meet him.”


Lydia Barit, ’16, took his global politics class:

“To the professor who cared unwaveringly for his students, had an impervious zest for teaching and for life, and somehow had the ability to get a stubborn, paper-dreading student to thoroughly enjoy writing about the effects of the oil business on the economies of Norway and Nigeria in 2013 – I say a massive ‘thank you.’ Thanks to you, I left W&L with a drive to become more open-minded, self-forgiving, thankful, and empowered to keep learning, not just with a Math degree and an insatiable craving for Hillel bagels. One of the best recommendations I received at W&L was to take a class with Professor Dickovick – and I’m so grateful that I acted on it. Thank you for all that you taught me and all that you gave me.”


Batsheva Honig, ’17, was one of his former students:

“I remember sitting in Professor Dickovick’s office, getting advice on a paper, like it was just yesterday. I remember his patience and thoughtfulness as he drew out a venn diagram to help illustrate his point and walked me though ways to take my paper to the next level. Professor Dickovick’s love of learning was truly contagious. I am so honored to have been his student and seen his intelligence and passion for life and learning firsthand. It is hard to fathom that he is no longer with us, but I know that his legacy will live on in the lives of those he touched and in the lives of those who were made better— just by knowing him.”


Angelica Tillander, ’14, was one of his students:

“Professor Dickovick was truly one of the kindest and most compassionate professors I had at W&L. He was also brilliant and had an amazing ability to impart knowledge in an exciting and engaging way. I am so sad to hear about his passing. I will keep his family in my thoughts.”


Amirah S. Ndam Njoya, ’17, was one of Dickovick’s advisees.

“Dear Professor Dickovick, I remember the first time we, international students, had our orientation get-together before the academic year started. It was an evening and we were in the living room in Elrod Commons playing cards and “bonding” as per the schedule stated. I remember you coming in, it was already dark outside, and you started talking with one of the Ghanaian exchange students. You were deep into your conversation about politics and Africa and I remember thinking wow—that’s some dedication. I couldn’t wrap my head around why a professor would be so passionate and talk to new students, like us, in the middle of an evening when the term hadn’t started. I will never forget that night because I was amazed at the dedication and passion. During my first year, I never had the courage to really speak to you. But tried every year (I think finally managed in my junior year) to get you as my advisor for my Global Politics concentration, even though you were constantly fully booked, both as an advisor and in your classes. The last class, that I had the privilege of taking with you was International Development. I remember and have kept all the books and notes from that class, especially the work of Atul Kohli State-Directed Development comparing development schemes throughout different nations in the global “South.” The class really allowed me to think differently on what development means and how there is no one definition of development and there is no one path towards development. There are, as Amin and Graham state in The Ordinary City, “diverse ranges of relational webs [that] coalesce, interconnect, and fragment” throughout time.” These ideas, I continue to dissect and work on every day as an urban planning master’s student, concentrating in international planning and development at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. I just wanted to say thank you for everything that you have taught me. Thank you for your time for the letters of recommendation that changed my life and for everything. I feel incredibly lucky to have been your student. Prayers to your wife, daughters, and family. Thank you once again Professor Dickovick.”


Robert O’Brien, ’16, took his international global development and international political economy classes.

“When I was a sophomore, I ended up on the waitlist for his global development class and another class (I can’t remember what). Asked a couple guys in my fraternity which one I should take, all recommended Professor Dickovick without hesitation. Hands-down one of the best decisions I made while at W&L, and after that I’d always recommend the same to any student who could potentially take his class. He was one of the smartest, well-read, and most engaging professors at W&L, and will be missed.”


Randy Karlson, ’16, the university’s assistant director of career and professional development, was a former advisee and student of Dickovick.

“Though I only took one class with Professor Dickovick he made a profound impact on me and my time at Washington and Lee. His kindness was forever present and he helped me through whatever issues I may have had, small or big. He will be missed by everyone he met.”


Stephanie Banning, ’15, said she was never able to take one of Dickovick’s classes, but she did have the chance to meet with him several times throughout her four years to discuss issues like international development, poverty and politics.

“I was eager to take Professor Dickovick’s International Development course, but unfortunately, it always conflicted with my required biology courses. I had emailed him in my second year asking if he knew when it would be offered the next semester, and he replied with the course reading list and inviting me to come meet with him to discuss the class, his work and travels, etc. I met with him that time and several times more throughout the course of my time at W&L, and I’d leave every time with a new book, a recommendation of a paper to read, and a feeling of hope that good work is happening already, and that I, too, could help people around the world throughout my future career. This was pretty much my first experience reaching out to find a mentor, and the positive experience with Professor Dickovick gave me the confidence to keep reaching out for guidance from amazing people who are helping others. That’s how I remember Professor Dickovick: a person so passionate about his work and teaching others how to do good in the world that he went out of his way to teach and mentor people who weren’t even his own students.”


Jack Anderson, ’16, said he first met Dickovick during an interview on campus as a high school senior in March 2012, and he convinced him that W&L was the place for him.

“Professor Dickovick’s impact on my education at W&L cannot be understated. He wanted all of us to see and learn about the world beyond Lexington, and would do anything and everything in his power to make it happen. The summer after my freshman year, I studied abroad in Azerbaijan through a State Department program, and came back to W&L wanting to focus my education on the Eurasia region. Professor Dickovick was hugely supportive of me when I told him that I wanted to hone in on the area. He was one of the few professors I consulted who encouraged me to design an independent major focusing on the region. His advice and support helped me bring that vision to reality as I petitioned the Courses & Degrees Committee for permission to chart an unusual academic journey across the Politics, Economics and Geology departments, along with courses at VMI and studies or research abroad at three foreign universities in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. It was an absolute moonshot, and there were plenty of folks on campus who thought I was crazy to even try it (to their credit, I was). But Professor Dickovick saw the potential in the idea. Without his support, my degree would not have become a reality. There were many people who were instrumental in helping me build an academic program that would take me back to Azerbaijan for a year, and also to Turkey, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, where I did my thesis research. I am forever grateful to the dozens of faculty and staff at W&L who made that possible. But without a doubt, Prof. Dickovick is the one person without whom my unique journey at W&L and abroad would have been impossible. I’ll admit, he did embarrass me once. I was taking his Latin American Politics class as an elective during my sophomore year, and the course was mostly full of juniors and seniors. As anyone who ever met Prof. Dickovick knows, he was a huge supporter of studying abroad, and the farther flung you were, the better. Of course, it can be hard to leave Lexington. It’s a wonderful place to spend one’s college years, and it can be challenging to complete a degree on time unless a study abroad destination has the required courses, a point someone aptly made to him in class one day. Two days later when we all returned, he said “I want to show you all something.” And he turned the projector screen on, and it was a blog from the W&L website about how I had gone to Azerbaijan the prior summer. I was mortified; I had responded to an email from someone in the communications office asking about my summer with the State Department a few weeks prior, but hadn’t seen the publication they put out. I don’t recall precisely what Prof. Dickovick said as he made the class read about me, but it was something to the effect of “Jack learned more in one summer than any of you will learn in 3 years of being on campus. Go abroad already, before you’re done here!” He was right. A W&L education in any academic field is nothing short of excellent, but going abroad made it exceptional. My life changed radically because of Professor Dickovick, and I will forever be grateful for his guidance. I was far from the only student he so tremendously impacted. He loved to help people succeed, no matter where they were or what they were trying to do. Professor Dickovick touched the lives of countless people around the world as he worked on advancing international development projects on multiple continents over the course of his career, and his passion for it was viral, inspiring many students to move into the field. He loved seeing W&L students succeed, whether in the classroom on campus or abroad, and plenty of us went overseas in large part due to his encouragement. Many dozens of Generals have done truly admirable things in dozens of countries around the world, in large part because of him. Professor Dickovick’s work as an educator will always live on in the accomplishments and experiences of his former students. I made countless friends as a result of returning to Central Asia over the course of my undergraduate years. Earlier today I reconnected with one of them, Cavid, who is now working on his Master’s degree in Boston. I met Cavid on my third semester in Baku, Azerbaijan, a place I would not have returned to so often without Prof. Dickovick. He was a wonderful man, and I will enjoy so many wonderful friendships because of him. I’m so sad that he will not be here to enjoy them as well. Prof. Dickovick’s passing is a tremendous loss for his family, friends, and the W&L community. But his life was a blessing to all of us. When I learned of his passing yesterday, I logged back in to my college email account for the first time in quite a while, and found a note he had sent to me and about two dozen other students in August 2015 to tell us that he had been diagnosed with ALS. Professor Dickovick faced his challenge with grace, bravery, candor, and his trademark wry sense of humor. He made us all better men and women. We are all so lucky to still have his bits of wisdom tucked away in e-mails, notebooks and letters. He made so many things possible for us that we can never repay, helping us bring dreams and aspirations to life. The best any of us can do to celebrate his memory is by doing as he would have done, making the most of the opportunities before us and opening doors for others we meet along our journeys in life. In this moment, that hardly feels like enough. Yet, that is what he would have wanted and encouraged us to do. Tyler, you will be so sorely missed.”


Mary Crowgey, ’17, was one of his students.

“Professor Dickovick was widely acknowledged as one of the best professors on campus. I was told by many that no matter what, I had to take a class with him before graduating. He challenged his students in ways I had never experienced before, and even though I did not receive a stellar grade in his class, I learned more than in any of my other classes at W&L. He will be missed greatly.”


Former W&L professor T.J. Tallie was a colleague of Dickovick’s in the Africana Studies Program from 2014 to 2018.

“Tyler was at my first interview for the job at W&L and I was blown away by his warmth and kindness and genuine passion for thinking about Africa and getting students to think about it with him. He was without a doubt one of my favourite parts of the entire interview. As I was preparing to leave for San Diego he contacted me, still rather ill, and asked if I’d be willing to take some of his books on African politics with me. I still treasure them, as I do him. No one was as kind or as thoughtful as him, and I wish I could be half the professor he was.”


Diane Kuhn, ’07, said she didn’t save many notebooks as an undergraduate, but she never threw out one from Dickovick’s classes.

“Part of that was because he was a brilliant teacher, both in the sense of being highly intelligent and in the sense of engaging you in class material whether or not you had a previous interest. But perhaps a bigger part was that Professor Dickovick emanated an emotional intelligence that most people won’t develop in a lifetime. He made everyone around him feel special and valued. Even if you were the one who had sought him out for advice or run into him in the hall, he let you know that he was genuinely happy to have had the opportunity to spend time with you. I never once doubted his sincerity. When I think back on Professor Dickovick and his classes, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about international development, Latin American politics, and leadership in the developing world. It shaped the choices I made after college and the interests I have pursued in my twenties and thirties. But I’m more grateful to have met him as a person. Having seen his exemplary humanity, compassion, and morality has allowed me to judge all of my behaviors and interactions against an inspirational standard. He made me a better writer and thinker in college, but his example will make me a better person for many years to come. We should all be so lucky.”


Yo Miura, ’07, took two of his classes.

“He was a brilliant teacher who was passionate about what he taught. As a science major, I did not need to take any of his classes but I took two because his classes were so good. He was also a really nice person who was willing to spend time with students.”


Rebecca LeMoine, ’07, took several of his courses, including a spring-term trip class in Senegal. She also worked as his R.E. Lee summer research assistant and was his advisee for her honors thesis in politics.

“I am terribly saddened by the loss of my undergraduate mentor, Professor Tyler Dickovick. Tyler began teaching at W&L during my sophomore year. After hearing there was a new professor in the department whose work focused on African politics, I immediately signed up for two of his courses; it didn’t take long to realize I had made an excellent decision. Within minutes of meeting us, Tyler created the perfect classroom environment. Though his immense knowledge of the subject matter could have been intimidating, his engaging, friendly, and humorous personality set everyone at ease. He was one of those rare professors who could make learning fun, while also inspiring you to do the hard work involved in learning. I don’t think my teaching skills can ever hold a flame to Tyler’s, but I’ll always be grateful to have had such an exemplary teacher whose model I try my best to follow. I went on to take more of Tyler’s courses, including his study abroad course in Senegal. Were it not for Tyler, I would never have had the life-changing experiences I had during my time in Africa. Those experiences led me to write an honors senior thesis on music and political thought in Africa, for which Tyler served as a co-advisor alongside my other mentor, Professor Eduardo Velasquez. Though I never submitted my thesis for defense, Tyler’s guidance throughout the project was invaluable. I recently revisited the extensive comments he gave me on multiple drafts of the thesis (which have travelled with me from place to place in a box over the years), and it’s shocking to me how much time he devoted to sharing his wisdom and how great he was at communicating his insights. Tyler was, simply put, a brilliant scholar. I’m honored to have worked on research with him, and I hope that my return to the subject of music and politics for my next book project will do Tyler proud. But it’s outside of his role as an academic that I learned the most from Tyler. Words fail me in describing what a genuinely good person Tyler was – what a kind, thoughtful, gentle soul he had. Indeed, he was so good-natured that it’s hard for me to imagine him ever saying an angry word. As intelligent and accomplished as he was, he never let it go to his head. He was incredibly down to earth and sympathetic to the plight of others. He was the one professor I felt completely comfortable asking “dumb” questions about navigating academic life, as he understood the struggles I faced as a female from a lower middle class background (ill-prepared for the social expectations of an elite college). Countless times his encouraging words were what gave me the confidence to continue pursuing my goals. Even after I graduated and went on to graduate school, he continued to be there for me. Rest in peace, Koffi.”


Robin Zheng, ’09, also took one of his spring-term classes in Senegal.

“I will never forget the one-on-one heart-to-heart about my troubles that Prof. Dickovick took time to have with my first-year undergraduate self, during my first-ever study abroad in Dakar. I now recognize how rare it is to have a professor like that, though everyone else’s words attest that this wasn’t at all a rare moment for him. Prof. Dickovick, you will be missed.”


Alum Marie Spread was one of his advisees.

“I wish I had discovered Prof. Dickovick earlier in my time at W&L so I could have taken a course with him every semester. His incredible attention to and affection for his subject material was infectious, able to bring even the wonkiest political science theories to life. Prof. Dickovick was unmatched in his expertise but also genuinely curious and open to others’ ideas. He was a thoughtful listener, captivating speaker, and provocative questioner. His classes were the highlight of my week. I cannot overstate the impact Prof. Dickovick had on my personal and professional trajectory. He pushed me to speak with confidence and encouraged me to run down rabbit holes just for the sake of learning, papers and projects aside. When I was a junior and senior struggling to pick a career path – trying to decide between my love of history, travel, culture, business, politics, theory, and strategy – Prof. Dickovick showed me how a career in international development could marry all those things. He was right and for that I am eternally grateful. Everyone has that one professor who changes their life – Prof. Dickovick was that professor for me and I know so many other students. His compassion, intelligence, and commitment to mankind inspired me to go into public service. I offer my sincerest condolences to his family and hope they take some comfort in knowing that while he left far too soon, his spirit will live on in the work of the hundreds of students he inspired at W&L.”


Jennifer Beam Dowd, ’96, completed her PhD program with Dickovick at Princeton University.

“Tyler is simply one of the smartest, funniest, and deeply kindhearted people I’ve ever known. My years slogging through a PhD would not have been the same without him and Alessandra. I was SO thrilled when my dear alma mater snagged Tyler as a new politics professor, I knew in my heart what a perfect match he would be for W&L community – a truly gifted scholar who cares deeply about teaching, mentoring, and having an impact on the world. I’m so glad he could give those gifts for as long as he did, but will always mourn the many more years that should have been.”


Lauren Kim, ’17, took his international development class and said she’ll remember his “genuine kindness” to students interested in global politics.

“He was a very compassionate person, interested in ameliorating the community we live in by taking an active role at the Shepherd Program.”


School of Law professor Henok Gabisa said he met Dickovick at a faculty luncheon in 2015 and later worked with him in a year-long, interdepartmental seminar on human rights in Africa.

“Tyler is one of the most humble human being I came across at W&L in 2015. A few months after meeting him, we paired up to start a collaborative work where we were planning to co-author an article on political and justice reform in Ethiopia.”


Alum Karen (no last name provided) took Dickovick’s introduction to politics class:

“He was always a great source of fantastic books to borrow. After I took his oral test in the Winter of 2014, he offered to lend me some of his books to read over break including some of his personal recommendations which turned out to be fantastic reads (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night). He was a passionate educator who clearly cared for his students always taking the time to share some of his passion to those who listened. He really cared every day. I will miss him dearly.”

 

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