By Marissa Payne
CEDAR FALLS – On a campus in which 16.6 percent of students are minorities, according to fall 2015 University of Iowa admissions data, the UI’s strategic plan for 2016-21 considers boosting inclusiveness for diverse populations.
The plan was approved by the state Board of Regents on Monday meeting at the University of Northern Iowa. UI President Bruce Harreld said the deadline was extended from the original date last spring to allow people to continue working on the plan throughout the summer and fall because “engagement was so active.”
“This is the easy part; now, we’ve got to make it happen,” Harreld said.
UI Professor Russell Ganim, a member of the Faculty Council and part of the Strategic Plan Development Group, also acknowledged the high level of engagement in putting the plan together.
An initial draft of the plan was published in July, and 12 open forums were held on campus with more than 250 attendees, according to regent documents. More than 750 individuals provided feedback on the plan.
“We see this document as part of shared governance at the university, and the level of participation was outstanding,” Ganim said.
Nicole Jardine, a graduate research assistant who worked on the Strategic Plan Development Group, said a part of the plan she cares about is improving the campus climate.
“I really support all of the things that we have here to create a more inclusive culture with metrics like increase the diversity of faculty and students and staff, and improve retention [of those groups],” she said. Both of these tasks are addressed in the plan.
By 2021, the plan listed one of its goals as having each college develop and implement a plan to eliminate “significant disparities” in the number of women and minorities employed as a UI faculty or staff member.
At a series of discussions held earlier this semester at the cultural centers among Harreld, UI Student Government President Rachel Zuckerman, and students in minority groups, increasing diversity and improving retention of underrepresented students was a concern.
“Within an environment like ours, which is a very predominantly white institution, it’s important and critical that students of color specifically have numerous folks that they can connect with that understand their experience at Iowa,” said Sarah Hansen, the UI associate vice president for Student Life.
There will also be changes made to the curricula for different UI courses to make discussions regarding diversity part of the dialogue in the classroom, including the addition of a diversity component to the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences general-education program requirements.
UI student Alya Mohd, a member of the Malaysian Student Society, said these efforts were an important sign of progress because underrepresented students are being “acknowledged” rather than “pushed away or overlooked.”
Additionally, she emphasized the importance of investing in the cultural centers, which is a critical task those implementing the plan aim to achieve.
“Having funding is important because the cultural center is actually a safe space for minority students,” she said.
Aside from diversity, the plan contains numerous goals for the UI, with the three overarching goals being to “perform high-impact research; provide a transformative educational experience that educates all UI students to be engaged citizens; engage with Iowa and the world to broaden education, improve health, and enhance economic development.”
UI student Jacob Simpson, a member of the Strategic Plan Development Group, said he hopes to see students advocating for the things they care about, regardless of whether those things are part of the plan or not.
“I would like to see students become aware of the plan,” he said. “There are a lot of ways that students can take those aspirational statements and work on them on their own or advocate for the implementation of certain things on their own.”