Underrepresented groups report lower satisfaction in campus climate, UI embarks on new DEI initiatives

Underrepresented groups at the University of Iowa were less likely to report being satisfied with the campus climate and feeling individually valued at the UI, according to the UI’s second faculty and staff campus climate survey.


Jenna Galligan

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Sarah Watson and Caleb McCullough

The University of Iowa is launching new diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives, including mandatory training for senior administrators, after conclusions from the 2020 campus climate survey found that underrepresented groups reported lower levels of satisfaction and higher likelihood of considering leaving the UI in the past year.

Released Monday, the Faculty and Staff Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 2020 Campus Climate Survey, the second of its kind after the UI gave its first report in 2018, analysed responses from 7,419 surveys of faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars at the University of Iowa.

Overall, 73 percent of faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars reported being satisfied with the campus climate, similar to the first survey launched two years ago. Eighty percent of respondents said they felt valued as individuals at Iowa. A smaller percentage of multiracial, underrepresented racial groups, and Latinx respondents reported feeling valued — at 71 percent, 78 percent, and 77 percent respectively. That’s compared to 83 percent of white respondents and 89 percent of Asian survey-takers who reported feeling valued.

Data visualization by Chloe Peterson/The Daily Iowan

In the survey, the underrepresented racial groups category included Native American and Alaska Native, Black or African American, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

The disparity was wider among gender groups — 69 percent of Trans and Gender Non-Conforming respondents said they felt valued compared to 81 percent of men and 82 percent of women.

Around half of underrepresented racial groups and Latinx respondents have considered leaving the UI in the past year, nearly twice as high as Asian respondents, at 26 percent. Overall, 41 percent of respondents said they considered leaving the UI in the past year, at similar levels to the survey two years ago.

Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liz Tovar said is one that she and her team wanted to figure out why a high number — especially of underrepresented groups that reported departmental culture as a reason — had considered leaving and how to give them a better counter offer.

“And one of the things that we found was people question the level of commitment that the university has toward DEI work,” Tovar said. “My response to that really is, I think we are committed, but sometimes we don’t do a very effective job of communicating that commitment, and when people don’t hear from the university on a broad scale, it’s left up to people’s interpretation. And so they don’t feel like there’s any movement or action when in reality, I think that there is.”

RELATED: Faculty of color voice frustrations with University of Iowa Diversity, Equity, Inclusion document

To accompany the climate survey results, Tovar talked with a number of campus partners in a 22-minute video discussing their experiences on campus with diversity, equity, and inclusion. The video kicks off the start of a designated “Unity Week,” in which the university will release a series of videos around the theme of unity.

“We don’t want to just stop with having a video, we want to keep this conversation going with people in our community and on campus and I think at the end of the day, people want to be heard,” she said. “They want their voices to be heard, they want someone to listen sincerely to what they have to say around DEI. And again, I think all voices need to be brought to the table and I think our Journey to Unity video really accomplishes that.”

The campus climate report also showed a gap in levels of importance UI respondents placed on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Overall, 94 percent of respondents said they “somewhat” to “strongly” agree that achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion at the UI is personally important to them. In response to a separate question, a quarter of people who took the survey “strongly disagree” that attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion distracts the UI from it’s academic mission.

About 31 percent of respondents also said they “somewhat” to “strongly” agreed that the university puts too much of an emphasis on DEI. Tovar said those perspectives should be listened to and understood as part of the university’s DEI efforts.

“I think that we really have to be open, as a community, to listening to folks who are at different stages, whether they be personally or professionally in terms of how they process diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Tovar said. “I try and remind people that we need to respect people for where they are, but also figuring out a way on, how do we have conversations around DEI, even with individuals who don’t necessarily want to embrace DEI.”

Data visualization by Chloe Peterson/The Daily Iowan

That disparity plays out along political lines. A higher share of conservatives, at 61 percent, said they “Somewhat Agree” to “Strongly Agree” that there is too much emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion compared to survey respondents who identified as moderate, 36 percent, and liberal, 13 percent.

As part of five initiatives the UI plans to implement, one is a series of listening sessions conducted by the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to hear from students, faculty, and staff about their experiences related to DEI on campus, and to provide updates on the university’s DEI efforts, along with other programs designed to engage the community.

The Division also plans to implement faculty DEI fellows to further the campus DEI mission. Tovar noted that senior administrators and those within the division need to have continuous conversations with those in supervisory roles as departmental climate was the No. 1 reason for 19 different identity groups for considering leaving the UI.

“One of the areas that you may notice is that you know a lot of people may consider leaving the University of Iowa, because of what is taking place at the unit level. And so I really think it’s important that we have our individuals who were in a supervisory role to have them help us with this conversation.”

The report recommended that the UI

  • “Expand institutional commitment and accountability for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Improve equity and inclusion in workplace practices, policies, and culture
  • Strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion awareness and education.”

The UI plans to implement five initiatives to improve the diversity climate on campus:

  • Increase engagement between the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the community
  • Mandate DEI training for senior administrators
  • Appoint two faculty fellows to work with faculty and implementing campus diversity initiatives
  • Spend $500,000 from the Office of the Provost on diversity initiatives involving faculty
  • Use a Diversity Catalyst Seed Grant to enhance inclusion in the UI special collections and offer a Student Legal Services Immigration Clinic

The DEI training for administrators will be provided by Nancy “Rusty” Barceló, a UI alum who has held administrator positions at the UI and was president of Northern New Mexico College from 2010 to 2015. Tovar said the training will be year-long and involve the president’s cabinet and all top-level administrators.

“Barceló, a UI alumna who held various positions at Iowa from 1975 to 1996, including assistant provost and assistant dean with the Office of the Provost, is known nationally for her DEI work,” a press release from the UI said. “She is a respected speaker and workshop leader, and is a highly sought-after consultant on equity and inclusion in higher education.”

Barceló will also develop workshops for faculty and offer one-on-one training.

Maurine Neiman, an associate professor in the Departments of Biology and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality studies, and Bradley Cramer, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, will be appointed as faculty DEI fellows. They will report to Tovar and Provost for Faculty Lois Gest and work on DEI among UI faculty. Tovar said they will start their duties this week.

The division also updated its diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan. Created in 2019, the 2020 climate survey will serve as a foundation for the next iteration of the plan. According to the UI’s tallies, 80 percent of the 116 items are completed, ongoing, or in progress.

Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students will be asked to take a separate survey, the Student Experience in the Research University survey during the spring 2021 semester.

The next climate survey for faculty and staff will be conducted in spring 2022. The survey, typically completed in the spring, was distributed in the fall this year because of pandemic’s disruption of typical classes and work at the university.

“We’re very committed to making sure that DEI is embedded in the core fabric of our institution,” Tovar said. “We are like the rest of the country, and like other institutions in that we have our challenges, and we recognize them, but they’re certainly not challenges that we can’t overcome.”