Opinion | University of Iowa needs to value diversity, equity, and inclusion

The decision by the University of Iowa to suspend diversity, equity, and inclusion training temporarily after the latest White House executive order is a slap in the face to every minority student and faculty member.


Jeff Sigmund

Old Capital as seen on April 13, 2020.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Columnist

Editor’s note: soon after this article was published, the University of Iowa released a statement signed by President Bruce Harreld, that said the UI is “disappointed” in the order, and emphasized that the pauses in training would resume after a two-week period.

University of Iowa, I am hurt and angry. I am ashamed that I am receiving my education from an institution that decided to follow in the footsteps of our nation’s “leader” and disregard the inequities and discrimination against minorities in America.

The UI decided to pause all federally sponsored diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings for a two-week period to evaluate whether the trainings align with a White House directive that bans trainings that contain “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”

They have decided to pause programs that are supposed to contribute to their values of diversity, equity, and inclusion along with just one other university.

In fact, the University of Michigan has spoken out about this order. President Mark Schlissel wrote the university was “dismayed” by the order, calling it “a direct violation of our right to free speech and has the potential to undermine serious efforts to acknowledge and address long-standing racist practices that fail to account for disparate treatment of our citizens throughout our society.”

But we haven’t heard from President Bruce Harreld on the issue.

As an Asian-American woman, I have experienced blatant racism and sexism firsthand. I don’t tell people my middle name because when I was nine someone called it weird and ugly. I don’t feel pretty because when I was younger girls would make fun of how small my eyes were. I have been told “go back where you came from” and “you’re supposed to be silent and submissive.”

More recently, I have seen people step farther away from me on the street and give me looks because I am associated with blame for COVID-19.

I grew up feeling horrible about myself because I was taught, through ignorant comments and mistreatment, that my ethnicity was something I should be ashamed of — that my worth wasn’t the same as everyone else’s. Worst of all, I have cried multiple times at the fact that my race was something I could never change.

Iowa, your actions seem to brush aside the discrimination that I and many other minority students have experienced.

 You chose to prioritize federal funding over discrimination. Your decision to halt these programs — even temporarily — has proven that you value money first and equity second.

Diversity training doesn’t promote the so-called concept of anti-American race and scapegoating. It is designed to bring attention to discriminatory and racist practices and behaviors that Americans don’t realize is wrong. Iowa’s programs, such as BUILD, teach faculty how to create an inclusive environment, and Path to Distinction teaches on implicit bias in the hiring process,

The university is not immune to these problems. The separation with former football strength coach Chris Doyle, and removal of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Steve Goddard proves that, in fact, the university needs these diversity, equity, and inclusion programs if it ever truly want to be a diverse and inclusive institution and learn from their mistakes.

Instead, the UI decided to follow an executive order that was made by a president in office who couldn’t condemn white supremacy during a debate after being asked to do so.

The Trump administration has stuck our higher education institutions between keeping hundreds of thousands of federal dollars for research grants and essential diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings. That shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Our leader has weaponized federal funding so higher education institutions follow his lead in cooling efforts to combat white supremacy.

But that doesn’t mean the UI shouldn’t stand up to the order. Other orders from the Trump administration — namely the Muslim ban and a now-rescinded order to end international student visas if classes were all online — have been felled in the courts or rescinded after backlash.

What is it going to take for you to see that we have a bigger problem than politics and money? This is about the fact that people like me don’t get treated with the same level of human respect and equality than everyone else. That, somehow, we are less worthy of being treated as human beings and given the same opportunities because we are different.

I expected you to condemn this order because of its ignorance and disregard for discrimination, but I was slapped in the face when I found out that the UI paused diversity, equity, and inclusion training, a signal to the 17.8 percent of students and 23 percent of faculty who identify as a minority that the university should comply with an order designed to discriminate rather than fight to overturn it.

Iowa, you kept federal funding, but you have lost respect and pride from the Iowa City community, students, and alumni.

I don’t think you’ll be able to fix this decision. I don’t think you will be able to claim that you value diversity and equity while providing an inclusive education environment and community ever again. If you want to be able to hold these values, you need to stand up to this order and continue these crucial trainings that ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion for all.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.