University of Iowa

UI officials reaffirm commitment to diversity

December 8th, 2015

The University of Iowa

By Jeff Charis-Carlson, The Iowa City Press-Citizen

In response to comments on multiple social media platforms that insulted various members of the University of Iowa community, five UI officials released a campus-wide letter Tuesday reaffirming the institution's commitment to diversity, decency and respect.

"We join other university leaders in condemning these comments," the letter reads. "Though the university encourages and facilitates free speech and differences of opinion, the educational environment is damaged and lessened when free speech descends into verbal abuse, bullying, and racism."

The letter was signed by Barry Butler, UI provost; Georgina Dodge, UI's chief diversity officer; Bruce Harreld, UI president; Tom Rocklin, UI vice president for student life; and Downing Thomas, dean of UI's International Programs.

"Many in our university community make a personal commitment to call out and reject harassment and hateful behaviors when they see them," the letter reads. "We applaud that level of personal responsibility and believe that it represents the true spirit of our institution and our state. We expect all UI students, faculty, and staff to contribute to creating the best possible campus environment."

The officials said the "no quick fix exists" for addressing the concerns raised by recent comments. They pointed, instead, to several examples of longer-term responses from students and administrators during the fall semester:

  • The government groups representing undergraduate, graduate and professional students denounced a series of comments — posted by UI students on Yik Yak and other social media platforms — that were targeted against international Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander students.  
  • The Faculty Senate, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, and the Center for Teaching sponsored an Inclusion Teach-In titled "Getting Comfortable with Uncomfortable Topics in the Teaching and Learning Experience."
  • The Chief Diversity Office’s Building University of Iowa Leadership for Diversity (BUILD) initiative offers UI faculty and staff the opportunity to gain strategic knowledge and skills to contribute to a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.
  • The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will require all incoming students to fulfill a diversity curriculum requirement beginning in 2017.
  • A module on diversity and inclusion is under development for the first-year Success at Iowa course required of all incoming undergraduates.
  • UI students are holding a series of open discussions on “Racism & Xenophobia” and will create an action plan to acknowledge and address racism on campus.

The joint letter comes at a time of heightened ethnic and racial tensions on campuses nationally. Racial incidents at Yale University and the University of Missouri this fall have led to a series of protests, rallies and forums at predominantly white universities across the country — including Iowa's three public institutions.

"The release of the letter was not triggered by a specific incident," Dodge said in an emailed statement. "This is the last full week of classes, and as our community prepares to leave for winter break, we wanted to make sure they parted with a message of inclusion. The message was also intended to help prepare people for an open, honest dialog as we go into our theme semester on social justice."