UI works on inclusion, diversity

The University of Iowa Chief Diversity Office updated the UI community on campus diversity and inclusion efforts, acknowledging fear of reversing progress on these efforts.


UI president Bruce Harreld addresses the crowd at the Chief Diversity Office’s 2017 Update on Diversity and Inclusion in the IMU Main Lounge on Jan. 18, 2016. The Update on Diversity is a part of Martin Luther King Celebration Week. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

As the United States and the state of Iowa undergo a political shakeup, University of Iowa officials are examining current campus-wide efforts to maintain an atmosphere of inclusion in the face of fear.

The UI Chief Diversity Office gave its update on diversity and inclusion Wednesday in the IMU Main Lounge. UI President Bruce Harreld said he believed it is important to look at diversity and inclusion as a “journey” and to celebrate progress while also recognizing work still needs to be done.

“Diversity is really important, but inclusiveness is equally important,” he said. “… Of all the places in the world, I think university environments should be the epitome, the best example of that, and that’s what we’re aspiring to do here.”

Georgina Dodge, the UI chief diversity officer, opened the update without shying away from discussing a pervasive sense of fear that many people are experiencing after the changes resulting from the 2016 election.

“We are trained not to talk about fear — and I use the word ‘trained’ intentionally,” she said. “Admitting to fear is seen as a weakness, so we don’t own up to it. Yet how can something we all experience be nonexistent? … I’m using my fear as motivation to continue working toward the values of inclusion that I embrace.”

Dodge referenced the uncertainty plaguing the UI as school officials grapple with the $100 million state budget shortfall and Gov. Terry Branstad’s $34 million in proposed cuts to higher-education funding.

She said these budget cuts have the potential to affect funding for the Advantage Iowa scholarship program, which is for “incoming first-year students … whose enrollment will contribute to a diverse learning environment,” according to the UI’s diversity website. There are 1,662 scholars for the 2016-17 school year.

“As the university moves forward with budget cuts, we can expect a decrease in funding for [Advantage Iowa], which will probably have an impact on future incoming classes,” she said. “Other forthcoming changes to how this scholarship is awarded means that students who experience a bad semester are at risk of losing their scholarships, which will affect retention and graduation rates.”

An emergency fund has been established to provide small sums to underrepresented students “in dire need,” but it will not replace scholarships, Dodge said.

Iowa Edge is another program for incoming underrepresented students discussed in the update. Dodge said anonymous donors have committed $1 million to establish an endowment for the program.

Additionally, she discussed initiatives to diversify faculty, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields in which women are underrepresented.

She also spoke about the results of the university’s Speak Out Iowa survey regarding sexual assault and the efforts to combat sexual misconduct, domestic/dating violence, and stalking through a two-year plan.

The Daily Iowan previously reported that of the 9.3 percent of students who responded to the survey, 21 percent of female undergraduates reported being sexually assaulted.

“I know I do not need to preach to any of the women in this room about misogyny that is, unfortunately, a continuing hallmark of American society,” she said. “This is an issue we confront both on campus and off.”

While Dodge addressed issues affecting the underrepresented and women in particular, she also discussed initiatives relevant to transgender students and those in the LGBTQ community, first-generation students, and people with disabilities, among other issues.

UI student Alexia Sanchez said that as a member of UI Student Government — a group that she said tries to be inclusive and encouraging of diversity — she felt inclined to attend the event after seeing it on social media.

“It’s very exciting, and it makes me very happy that these things are happening around campus, but like [Dodge] said, there’s definitely still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “… An ally in the world of diversity and inclusion can also go a long way.”

Harreld shared his experience meeting with people on campus affected by issues of diversity and inclusion, and his final words for the evening echoed the sentiment.

“It says to me we still have a long way to go to listen and learn how to talk to one another …” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all humans. We’re all shared as a community, and it’s very, very important that we all reach out, support, listen, and get things done.”

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