Three months into her position, the University of Iowa’s ombudsperson Chanelle Reese is aiming to increase student awareness of the services that Office of the Ombudsperson provides.
The Office of the Ombudsperson serves UI students, faculty, and staff by providing a confidential, neutral, and independent dispute resolution service, according to the UI Operations Manual.
Last year, the Office of the Ombudsperson’s annual report saw a 13 percent decrease in its number of visitors, a continuation of the decline present in the office since 2019. The office’s 2020-2021 report revealed UI staff and faculty make up most the visitors to the office, while the student population accounts for 25 percent of visitors.
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As the university’s ombudsperson, Reese said she plans to prioritize outreach efforts in hopes of making the student population the highest percentage of visitors to the office.
“I think that the numbers for the Office of the Ombudsperson, in terms of service, should be more reflective of the actual population of the campus,” Reese said. “My goal and objective is to get at least one full-time person where their sheer focus is to use the data, we have to do consistent outreach efforts everywhere. It’s too big of a campus for us not to do that.”
Anyone affiliated with the university is welcome to come to the Office of the Ombudsperson to discuss any issues they encounter and receive impartial help.
“Just because we are not advocates and I am impartial, doesn’t mean that I can’t help you … I’m not going to give anyone any guidance that I wouldn’t do myself,” Reese said.
The Office of the Ombudsperson provides services in which people can discuss various problems they encounter on campus, which can range from issues related to roommates, a student organization, or grades.
Reese said all interactions are confidential, with the exception that information is shared about a crime committed on campus or there is an imminent threat of harm to oneself or others.
“It doesn’t need to be an egregious concern for you to reach out,” Reese said. “Think of us as a thought partner … as someone to brainstorm something with before having to make any decisions regarding next steps”.
Before coming to Iowa, Reese previously served as the senior associate ombudsperson at the University of California Merced.
Reese also worked as a senior associate in the Ombudsperson Office of the American Red Cross for three years and was a dispute resolution coordinator at the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.
Part-time Faculty University Ombudsperson Meenakshi Gigi Durham said she is happy to have Reese on the team.
“She’s very experienced and really engaged … it’s very wonderful to have her here,” Durham said.
She said Reese’s prior experience equips her with a better understanding of the people who come to the office and the possible solutions she can extend to visitors.
Durham added she hopes enhancements like transparency in data collection will allow a better understanding of what the office does and what is still needed.
“Nothing that I’ve heard as an ombuds has surprised me, which allows me to continue to be objective while allowing the person who is expressing things to me to sit in the emotion of what’s happening,” Reese said “It’s okay to do that, but then also say, ‘based upon how you’re feeling, let’s use that to work through some options that you have to overcome this.’”
As Reese continues to act as the university’s ombudsperson, she said she’s dedicated to making the office a valuable space for all.
“Don’t let new faces in the office stop you from reaching out … I like to say, ‘what do you have to lose if you really do have a concern,’” Reese said. “The only thing that’s on the forefront of my mind is being the best that I can be so that I can provide the best service to whoever I’m going to see.”