New Afro House Coordinator Shalisa Gladney adjusts to role in virtual format

A Hawkeye grad and former coordinator for RVAP, Shalisa Gladney is transitioning to her new role as Afro House coordinator, seeking to provide support for students of all identities.


Tate Hildyard

University of Iowa AfroHouse director Shalisa Gladney poses for a portrait in Oak Grove Park on Thursday, October 22nd, 2020.

Mary Hartel, News Reporter

Shalisa Gladney, the new coordinator for the University of Iowa Afro-American Cultural Center, is working to center students and uplift the foundations of the cultural center through community-building and creativity.

Gladney, a UI alum, has a degree in communications and Gender Women’s and Sexuality Studies. Most recently, Gladney worked as the university prevention education coordinator at the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. Before that, Gladney worked as an international teacher focused on social justice in Kurdistan.

“I think I’ve always worked with education in one form or another,” Gladney said. “I’ve been an advocate for a very long time — it’s a big part of my identity.”

Gladney has also taken on various roles within the Domestic Violence Intervention Program over the past five years and is still active with the organization, she said.

Gladney said she’s driven in part by her ability to give back to the community.

“I think even more broadly, my rule of thumb is being who I needed when I was younger,” Gladney said. “And so, I think about — as I serve either younger students or college students — really wanting to be the resource that I needed when I was that same age.”

Gladney is president of the UI African American Council and Vice President for Sankofa Outreach connection, an organization that provides social events for women of color in the Iowa City area.

Gladney began her new position Oct. 1, following the departure of the previous coordinator Shirleena Terrell. Gladney said she was thrilled to be named coordinator of the Afro American Cultural Center – also known as the Afro House – and feels honored to serve in this capacity, Gladney said.

“After meeting with the students and the staff at [The Office of Multicultural and International Student Support], I just knew that this is where I was supposed to be,” Gladney said.

Gladney said working as the coordinator has been a great experience so far, despite a busy transition.

“I’ve been learning a lot, and the foundation is already laid, so I really appreciate the onboarding,” Gladney said. “I’m excited to see what will be next.”

Gladney said her focus is on uplifting students through all the programming the cultural center provides on campus.

“I would say that my primary goal is centering Black students in the programming that will come out of the Afro House, and very broadly thinking of Black diaspora,” Gladney said.

Maintaining community within the Afro House is not only important, but necessary, right now, Gladney said.

“Black students and staff deserve to have a space where they call home, a space where we can all get together, whether that’s virtually, or whether that’s in person that affirms our identities,” Gladney said. “That affirms our Blackness — that affirms our right to be here.”

While the virtual atmosphere on campus and remote work poses challenges for effectively building a community, Gladney said it does not limit the center’s capacity to do so.

“I’m pretty creative,” Gladney said. “I’m working with a lot of students who are also creative and willing to think outside the box.”

Interim Associate Director for the Office of Multicultural and International Student Support and Engagement Thomas Arce was involved in the process to select Gladney for the coordinator position.

Arce said they were really looking for a leader who could engage with the stability of the Afro House community, so launching a whole new search process didn’t make sense.

“We wanted to think about who a current staff member within our Division of Student Life is, and to think about how we can uplift that individual,” Arce said. “And think about — kind of elevate thinking about folks within our division, in terms of the work that they have already engaged with our campus community.”

Gladney was already working among the cultural centers through her work with the African American Council and the Race Victim Advocacy Program, Arce said.

Related: Interim Associate Director for the Office of MISSE to maintain sense of community online

Multicultural Student Support has faced a lot of administrative turnover recently, Arce said, and they were serving as the fill-in coordinator. They are looking forward to having a staff member that can devote time and energy to the students themselves while conducting purposeful programming and engagement, Arce said.

Center Programming Assistant for the Afro House Samer Suleman said Gladney was dedicated to collaboration and making the space into what it is meant to be from the organization’s initial meetings with her.

He’s only known Gladney a short time, Suleman said, however he feels as though he has gotten to know her well in her capacity as coordinator. He said Gladney is constantly looking for ways she can continue to get involved with the community.

“She’s always looking out for us as students, and it lowkey feels like the closest thing to a mentor that I know that I have,” Suleman said. “So, it’s nice to just feel safe and like we’re in good hands with Shalisa as our coordinator. I’m excited to keep working with her. I’ve only known her for probably a month and a half, but I’m a big fan.”