Out of all the words Iowa women’s basketball associate head coach Jan Jensen could’ve used to describe receiving a LGBTQ Legacy Leader Award from dsm Magazine and One Iowa Leadership Institute, she used that one.
“When you’re originally coming out, you never ever think something positive could happen,” Jensen said. “Maybe not everybody, but I’d say a large percentage. So, just a moment of gratitude. I was thankful for all the people along the way that in the scary times, the darker times, the nervous times, were there, helping me through and always pushing me forward with confidence that life was going to be OK.
“So, there were just a lot of emotions. A lot of gratitude.”
Jensen was nominated for the award by multiple people, including Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder, who coached Jensen when she played at Drake University. Bluder later hired Jensen as an assistant coach on her Drake staff.
But Jensen almost left the program in the late 1990s in fear that coming out as gay would hurt the program, considering how few openly gay collegiate coaches there were at the time. She offered her resignation to Bluder, who declined it.
At the time, Bluder didn’t have all the answers.
“‘We’re going to figure it out,’ is what she said,” Jensen said.
The coaches have worked together ever since and have been at Iowa since 2000, when Bluder was named head coach and brought Jensen on as an assistant.
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The Iowa Athletics Department and the university have always been very inclusive in Jensen’s opinion. When Jensen made the NCAA Tournament for the first time at Iowa, she didn’t know if her spouse, Julie Fitzpatrick, would be considered family and be able to go. Bob Bowlsby, Iowa’s athletics director at the time, said it was no problem.
“I’ve just never felt different here or hampered here,” Jensen said. “I’ve felt proud to work here and again, I never really think about it. I just try to do the best that I can and consider myself like every other employee, and I’ve never been made to feel differently in my experience, so I’ve been really, really grateful for that.”
Coaching is not the only way Jensen impacts the local community. She is a leading fundraiser for the United Way of Johnson County and is involved with the Shelter House, a charity that helps people move past homelessness.
“I just feel like I’ve been so blessed to get to do what I get to do, and if I have some time, then I can be a positive difference,” Jensen said. “I just really, really want to strive to do that. So, to me, it’s not a task.”
Jensen said that she thinks the Iowa City/Coralville community takes pride in making the area a good place to live.
It’s why she loves the community so much.
“We’re obviously, now with the nation, we’re all learning how much more we can do to be inclusive of everybody that maybe doesn’t look exactly like us,” Jensen said. “But I think Iowa City and Coralville, we are filled with so many people that do want to do good. We do want to do better, and I sense a lot of pride.”