University of Iowa VP of student life converses about being a woman in leadership


Lily Smith

VP for Student Life Dr. Melissa Shivers speaks during an interview with The Daily Iowan in the IMU on Monday, March 26, 2018. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

University of Iowa Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers and graduate student Joy Melody Woods sat down Wednesday evening to discuss what it is like to be a woman, and a woman of color, in a leadership role at a Big Ten university.

Shivers is the first African-American woman to hold her position.

Woods is a master’s student in the School of Education with a focus on sociology. She also hosts a podcast, “Morning Joy,” which started in August 2017. The podcast focuses on education, mental health, and the music we use to cope with it all, she said.

Woods reached out to Shivers last semester with an idea to conduct an interview for “Morning Joy.” However, the idea evolved into a formal event to be held during Women’s History Month to celebrate Shivers and women in power.

“We don’t have a lot of women in leadership, and so I thought that it would be really great to interview someone who is in leadership … who is new and who also is a woman of color,” Woods said.

The conversation highlighted the importance of meaningful relationships and finding friendships that are rewarding. Building relationships takes time, and it is important that what you are giving in relationships is being reciprocated, Shivers said.

“I try to surround myself with authentic and real people,” she said.

Shivers has 22 years of experience working in higher education and has developed an admiration for being able to help students find who they are. She enjoys making students uncomfortable in the sense that it will help them grow, she said.

The discussion also delved into a discussion of Brittney Cooper’s book Eloquent Rage. Woods asked questions that focused on how to manage anger and frustration.

It is important to reflect at the end of the day and determine whether you “fill up the cup or take away” when interacting with students and peers, Shivers said.

Her identification as a woman of color was also discussed in regards to the importance of her position on the UI campus. Being a woman and also being black are two identities that are a conscious part of the intersections of her identity, Shivers said.

The low percentage of African-American students on campus was also discussed as a component of Shivers’ experience at Iowa.

“Only 3 percent of the university is African American. So that means there’s like 1,000 of us,” Woods said. “And that’s disheartening to know that when I look around, I’m like the only black person in my classroom … so finding that community is harder, and we search for it. But also..It’s also taught me how to communicate across cultures.”

Only 3.5 percent of Iowa’s population is African American, and that tied into Shivers’ experience with getting acquainted as part of the community, Shivers said.

UI senior Gabrielle Young spoke of her experience during Wednesday’s event.

“It meant … Seeing Dr. Shivers in a more … human way, in a more personal way … understanding that she’s like me,” Young said.


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