Spring, 2016 Diversity Initiatives Update

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Dear Campus Community,

Diversity is a source of vitality and creativity, an essential element in our complex and dynamic world. To engage diversity broadens our perspective and allows us a richer and deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. More and more, business leaders and non-profits expect students to graduate with the ability to collaborate with individuals who hold different world views and come from different backgrounds. Teacher educators are faced with increasing diversity in their classrooms, which can become an enormous opportunity if handled well. Indeed, success in our globally interconnected world depends upon the ability to understand and authentically engage difference, just as growth on a personal level depends upon authentically encountering different perspectives and world views.

Last November, we provided you with our last update on diversity and inclusion efforts on our campus as we work to elevate the ability of our students, staff, and faculty to be prepared for complexity and change. Before reviewing the many activities that have occurred since then, we would like to announce two very important upcoming events:

  • "Brave Student Voices: Then and Now" will occur on April 12, 2016 from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. in the Commons Ballroom. This event will bring back to our campus members of the UNI-7 whose civil disobedience in 1970 brought to the forefront many of the same issues we are engaging now and connect them with our current student leaders who have also elevated this conversation.

  • "Dealing with Racist and Other Inappropriate Comments in the Classroom" will occur on April 4, 2016 from 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. in the Rod Library 287. Many of us find it challenging to handle racist or inappropriate comments in the classroom. Such comments often take us off guard, and can be very difficult to handle well. So that we have an idea of how many people will be at the workshop, please register here. This workshop will be facilitated by Stephanie Logan (Curriculum & Instruction), Victoria DeFrancisco (Communication Studies), Susan Hill (CETL), Karen Mitchell (Communication Studies).

These two events are designed to allow the campus community to truly understand and work towards improving our campus climate.

A great deal has happened since last November as we progress in making meaningful, long-term changes to our campus. As we conclude a very successful series of events celebrating Black History Month organized by our Black Student Union, we are pleased now to provide another update on other actions.

  • Chief Diversity Officer: We have launched a national search for a Chief Diversity Officer; Robert Smith, Executive Director of the UNI-Center for Urban Education, is chairing that search. Candidates should be on campus in April; please look for invitations to open forums.

  • Center for Multicultural Education: Jon Cox, Coordinator of Minority and Student Diversity Programs in the College of Business Administration, moved to the Center for Multicultural Education on an interim basis to lead programming and outreach on the campus community. Also, we have contracted with an architectural firm to reconfigure some of the CME space.  A student and staff planning committee has been hard at work on this.

  • Diversity Training for Search Committees: Last fall, Associate Provost for Faculty Nancy Cobb worked with Human Resources and the Office of Compliance and Equity Management to develop diversity training for all faculty search committees. This training is interactive and engaging. The training has been extended to all search committees.

  • Department of Residence: We have hired an external consultant, Dr. Guy A. Sims, Assistant to the President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Bluefield State College in West Virginia. Dr. Sims will work with us to examine the culture and climate in our residence halls. This will include how we hire and train Resident Assistants.

  • Recruitment: The Director of Admissions is working with the Provost's Office to hire an external consultant to review our admissions recruitment procedures, including the support and opportunities we provide to student ambassadors who assist us with recruitment. This review will be essential in establishing equitable processes and procedures for all our ambassadors and for elevating the work of recruiting a diverse student population.

  • Teach-Ins: The faculty have organized two very powerful Teach-Ins, one at the Faculty Senate and one through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. These events generated a great deal of conversation and led to requests for additional training and workshops.

  • Curriculum: Students have engaged in rich discussions about diversity in the curriculum, making the point that diversity should be a learning outcome of our programs. They will eventually take these discussions to the Faculty Senate who coordinates oversight of the curriculum on our campus.

  • Webinars: We held two well-attended webinars on race, diversity, and inclusion. The first webinar, on January 26, titled "Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington on Training Staff to Respond to Racial Climate Challenges," shared insights and expertise on how to engage and respond to issues of diversity and inclusion on college campuses. The second webinar, on February 18, titled "Yik Yak & Anonymous Social Media: What You Need to Know & Do About the Latest Issues," was led by national expert and higher education social media thought-leader Eric Stoller (UNI B.A. '00); he discussed the latest updates and best practices in using Yik Yak as a campus tool.

  • Facing Our Truth: Short Plays on Trayvon, Race, and Privilege was held in our Interpreter’s Theatre in early March under the leadership of Karen Mitchell. Shortly after the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the New Black Fest commissioned several playwrights to write short plays reflecting on the tragedy. The 10-minute plays speak to contemporary problems of race and privilege in our culture. After the play, members of the production conducted a powerful Talk Back that furthered our diversity education on campus.

In addition, the Diversity Advisory Committee has been re-energized and charged with two very important activities. Dr. Stephanie Logan has agreed to chair this committee. They have been meeting on a regular basis and created two sub-committees to advance this work:

Diversity Value Statement: The Provost has charged the committee to develop a statement of the value of diversity on a college campus, and particularly here at the University of Northern Iowa. The statement will speak to the entire university community to demonstrate how diversity and inclusion are central to our values and commitments.

Diversity Action Plan: As a result of the forums last fall, led by our students, we have been working to develop a plan that will create meaningful, structural changes on our campus. The Diversity Action Plan will become a part of Core Principle Four: Elevate Diversity, Sustainability, and Community Engagement of the Academic Master Plan.

Finally, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has been working to develop several activities and events for faculty development and the campus community in the fall semester. They include the Fall Faculty Workshop, which will focus on diversity and inclusion, and a New Faculty Academy, which will include diversity and inclusion training. The New Faculty Academy will be a semester long engagement of new faculty to launch them on successful careers at UNI.

That's a lot... but even then we have so much more to do. We greatly appreciate the hard work of our students, staff, and faculty and the way in which we have constructively and positively engaged challenging and complex issues.

Together, we can chart out a path towards a better future.

Bill Ruud           Jim Wohlpart
President         Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs