As protests, vigils, and demonstrations spread throughout Iowa and the nation this weekend in response to the death of George Floyd, top University of Iowa leaders called for collective action and assured Hawkeyes that the university community was taking steps to address inequalities.
In an effort to reach the UI’s goal to create an inclusive environment, UI President Bruce Harreld and Provost Montserrat Fuentes wrote in a campus-wide email on Sunday that the university would be releasing an update to its 2019-2021 Diversity Equity and Inclusion plan this week.
The update will include progress made during the spring semester and explain how the university community is continuing to work together to accomplish the goals of the plan, according to UI media-relations Director Anne Bassett.
“The anger, sadness, and fear felt by our community, and specifically Black communities across our nation, over the killing of George Floyd are justified,” the message said. “This is not a new phenomenon and the Black community is, we are sure, exhausted from the constant trauma and pain of being the recipients of mistreatment by those who are tasked with serving and protecting communities — the police.”
Hundreds rallied on the Pentacrest on Saturday afternoon for a “Say Their Names Rally” to honor George Floyd, who died Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground for several minutes even after he repeated to the officer “I can’t breathe.”
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Released in April 2019, the UI’s 2019-2021 Excellence through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan sketched out four overarching goals to create an inclusive environment on campus: create and sustain an inclusive and equitable institution; recruit, retain, and advance a diverse community of faculty, staff, and students; integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into UI’s core academic mission; and enhance accountability, effectiveness, and collaboration of diversity efforts.
The last campus climate survey, done in 2018, reported that faculty, staff, and students part of marginalized groups reported a lower satisfaction with the overall campus climate. About 70 percent of campus faculty, staff, and students responded they were somewhat or very satisfied with the campus’ climate.
In the last annual diversity update to the Board of Regents, in April, Fuentes reported an uptick in first- to second-year retention rates for underrepresented students at the University of Iowa, which she credited with programs such as Iowa Edge, a program that helps first-generation students and students from underrepresented groups transition to college life. But, first-gen student retention rates have dipped since 2013. To prevent this, the Provost’s Office unveiled the Hawkeye First Generation Initiative, set to launch summer 2020, with focuses on academic engagement, mentorship, and support. Various other initiatives by the UI have also aimed to improve retention of underrepresented faculty, staff, and students, including a postdoctoral fellowship unveiled in January with a goal to diversify faculty and create a clear path for postdoctoral scholars going into academia.
The UI is continuing its search for a leader of its Division of Diversity Equity and Inclusion this year, and is slated to announce a new Vice President for Diversity Equity and Inclusion in 2021. At a virtual forum this April, one student urged the search committee Isaacson Miller that the position should report directly to the president, rather than the provost, as the leaders of the three campus diversity units currently do, in order to strengthen the university’s ties to underrepresented groups on campus. The position has remained vacant since former Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion TaJuan Wilson resigned in August 2019 after a seven-week tenure.
Sunday’s message to campus reiterated the UI’s intolerance of hate on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or country of origin on campus and within the community, as well as the university’s support of the respectful exchange of ideas and creating and maintaining a safe and inclusive campus for all people.
UI leaders also called for change within individual communities to disrupt interpersonal, systemic, and societal racism.
“Over the past several days, the images from across our nation are difficult to comprehend and elicit a range of feelings,” the message said. “While we will engage with these emotions individually, and on our own timeline, one thing is clear—together we must act.”