Change UIowa Committee formed to ensure diversity demands are met

The committee was formed following the petition released to acknowledge loss of Black professors within the university’s English department in September.


Abigail McDaniel

The English-Philosophy Building is seen on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.

Ainsley Dunkin, News Reporter

The organizers of a petition calling on the University of Iowa English department to diversify its staff have created the Change UIowa English Committee to make sure their demands are met and implemented.

After noting a lack of diversity in the staff of the English program, UI senior Shalini Jasti, creator of the committee, and senior Cassandra Chia started a petition and addressed it to UI President Bruce Harreld and the Offices of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Provost.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the petition included a list of demands for improved diversity and anti-racism training for white professors; a committee in the liberal-arts college dedicated to assessing the department’s commitment to diversity; prioritization of the retention of faculty of color, and priority given to Black faculty that want to teach African-American literature courses.

RELATED: Loss of Black professors in University of Iowa English department prompts petition

With a mixture of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students, Jasti said the committee is a “… direct response to the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice Committee.”

She said the Change UIowa English and Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice committees work together to form ideas and make sure all student and faculty voices are heard. Members of the committee volunteer to raise awareness of the changes made in the current Racial Justice Action Plan.

Chia said the committee aims to provide a space for undergraduates to voice their concerns about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“We don’t want to be a committee in the traditional sense,” she said. “We want to serve as a liaison between the overall English undergraduate program and university administration.”

“The CUE Committee insists on making sure all demands of the petition are being accepted and pursued,” Jasti said.

UI Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of English Adam Hooks said the reactions to the committee and petition have been positive.

“Some faculty even signed the petition,” he said. “This petition and committee are well accepted.”

Hooks said the department is working to strengthen the committee by designing and approving an official charge and making protocols for it so that it can continue to grow in the future.

“We are dedicated to working with and for the undergraduates within this committee,” he said. “We are all proud of the students who used their voice to make a change in this university.”

Hooks added that the department’s Racial Justice Action Plan will be posted on the college’s website as soon as it is ready to be published.

Literary magazines near campus that have also expressed interest in contributing to the petition and committee. The Patchwork Lit Magazine Editor-in-Chief Amanda Pendley said the magazine’s mission – to promote diversity, community, and support systems – is similar to the goals of the committee, which is what led the magazine to contribute to the petition.

She added that the magazine works hard to make voices within the community heard.

“The most important thing to me both as an editor and as a writer is prioritizing making space for underrepresented voices,” Pendley said. “I have learned a lot about the importance of advocating for diversity within your own community.”

She added that her involvement with Patchwork and the existence of Change UIowa English has changed her perspective on promoting diversity within the university. She and the rest of the Patchwork staff are doing what they can to promote the committee’s message and objectives, she said.

Jasti said the Change UIowa English committee was formed primarily to give people a voice and bring more diverse individuals into the light.

To ensure the committee is involved on campus and noticed by the university, Jasti said there are seats for students of varying years in school to keep everyone aware of firsthand changes and extend the longevity of the committee.

“We will fight to keep it going for as long as the university stands,” Jasti said. “The CUE Committee cannot operate without passionate students who care about Iowa enough to change the current system of racism.”