By Marissa Payne
Despite institutional efforts to celebrate and encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion, student survey responses suggest there’s more work to be done to ensure all students feel a sense of belonging.
The University of Iowa highlighted data at its annual diversity update in the IMU on Wednesday, revealing those across various communities of underrepresented students have reported feeling a declining sense of belonging at the institution.
Based on results from a survey administered each year to undergraduates from 2013-16 (excluding 2015), UI officials learned that many underrepresented student populations feel less like they belong at the UI than their majority peers. Fall 2017 enrollment data show 14 percent of undergraduates enrolled at the UI are underrepresented students.
A survey for graduate students is in the works and will be administered later in the spring semester. The UI will also release a survey today for faculty and staff to further assess the campus climate.
Rather than finding those numbers depressing, interim Chief Diversity Officer Lena Hill said they re-energized her and informed officials where the institution needs to place its energies to address the disparities.
“As we think about disparities between these different student subgroups and how they feel about their position on campus and their experience, we are committed to changing it, to not shying away from these issues,” she said.
Hill voiced the UI’s commitment to achieving “excellence through diversity” and building a climate that supports all who attend the university.
The UI has made a concerted effort to ensure underrepresented students feel included on campus, making it a top priority in its strategic plan, which was approved by the state Board of Regents in December 2016, to foster a more inclusive culture.
Recruitment and retention of diverse students, faculty, and staff is a major component of the plan. According to regents’ documents, the UI had a one-year minority student retention rate of 83.4 percent for the entering class of 2015. The rate for nonminority students was 87.7 percent.
Additionally, UI data showed there is an 8 percentage point disparity between the undergraduate four-year graduation rate for underrepresented students and all students, with the rate for underrepresented students sitting at 46 percent.
The UI plans to have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan prepared by the fall of 2018 addressing the issues identified. UI Student Government President Jacob Simpson said he wants to see clear action steps from the university as this plan is developed.
“I want to make sure it’s a significant effort and not a spot check or something that may appear on the outside to promise change when we know that it could’ve improved to a significant degree,” he said.
Simpson said there are national trends that have trickled down into higher education that may contribute to the lack of a sense of belonging some students reported feeling. The Daily Iowan previously reported on the trend of declining international-student enrollment — a trend seen across all universities in the U.S. — which some have said potentially reflect concerns over the implementation of policies implemented under President Trump’s administration.
“We always have room to improve in terms of how we’re including and treating students on campus,” Simpson said.
UI President Bruce Harreld urged the campus community not to lose sight of the institution’s identity as other issues surface.
“We shouldn’t lose our path,” he said. “We shouldn’t lose our vision of who we are and what we want this place to be.”