Students gain new opportunity to connect with African American alums
Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A new event at the University of Iowa will provide students with the opportunity to meet and develop mentoring relationships with African American alumni. Fields of Opportunity: UI’s Black Migration Stories will take place Oct. 19–21. Co-organizers Lena Hill and Michael Hill say that this is the first step in a larger community-building effort for African American undergraduates.

“These are two constituencies that are not often given opportunity to interact and are desperate for each other,” says Michael Hill, who is also associate professor of English. “By creating a dedicated moment where former and current black students can network—as well as any students seeking an invested mentor—we hope to promote an exercise in community building that extends beyond the walls of the university.”

Fields of Opportunity will include presentations by contributors to Invisible Hawkeyes and a performance by Step Afrika! of the Hancher commissioned dance The Migration: Reflections of Jacob Lawrence.

Read more here.

Venise Berry, associate professor of African American studies and journalism, says that having a significant, visible African American community is important to recruiting African American faculty and students, and that mentoring is one way to strengthen that community.

Berry earned a BA in journalism from the UI in 1977 and an MA in communication studies in 1979; she is also a member the Iowa Black Alumni Association’s executive council. She mentors many students and says that different mentors can offer different kinds of help. As a member of the UI faculty, Berry serves as a mentor for the National Association of Black Journalists Unity chapter and co-advisor for the Young, Gifted, and Black living learning community, where she helps students gain the skills they need to graduate.

“Older and more established alumni would be able to help students as they begin to venture out into the world, especially when it comes to their careers,” she says.

Gabrielle Miller, a fourth-year sociology and ethics and public policy major, says she is particularly interested in a mentor who can guide her after she earns her degree.

“This is my last year, so I’m looking for a little guidance, someone to share their experience with me, because my plan is to go to graduate school and get a degree in urban and regional planning,” she says. “I’m just excited to be able to hear about people’s narratives because you’re able to get an understanding of how things have changed or haven’t changed, and then you can use their story to help you navigate what you may be experiencing.”

Lena Hill, associate professor of English and African American studies and senior associate to the president, says the event is inspired in part by a book that she and Michael Hill co-edited, Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa During the Long Civil Rights Era.

Recently published by UI Press, the book details accounts of the unexpected role that UI alumni played in the civil rights movement.

Invisible Hawkeyes aims to introduce a new generation of black students to individuals who blazed the trail that they now walk,” Lena says. “Mentoring is about sharing knowledge through relationships. We hope this book and the events around its publication recall the rich legacy of black student accomplishment and inspire current Hawkeyes to write the next chapter.”