Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lena Hill is an associate professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Iowa and senior associate to the president. She also serves as the UI's interim chief diversity officer and associate vice president.

Lena Hill portrait
Lena Hill

During my 12 years at the University of Iowa, I have experienced firsthand the vibrancy of diverse learning environments. My faculty appointment in English and African American Studies has given me the privilege of analyzing literature with students who represent the broadest definition of diversity: this includes different races, ethnic groups, gender identities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, religious beliefs, mental and physical abilities, veteran statuses, national origins, and political perspectives. Our literary study unquestionably benefits from their varied perspectives, but my students often acknowledge that the racial and ethnic diversity present in my courses constitutes a rare experience for them at the UI. This is a challenge.

As we prepare students to thrive in an increasingly diverse world, shouldn’t we endeavor to create top-notch learning environments that announce their preparation for postgraduate experiences anywhere in this nation or abroad? Whether students are studying in the humanities or STEM fields, the arts or health sciences, diverse points of view enhance learning and foster debate. In addition to working toward greater diversity, we pursue equity because we desire equal outcomes for all who join the UI. We strive to make our campus more inclusive to ensure we remain a university where differences are welcomed and every member of our community can flourish.

Our campus climate directly impacts faculty and staff vitality as well, and this is crucial to our continued leadership and relevance to a 21st century world. When we study the numbers that describe our current UI community, we discover great opportunities for growth. This is especially true when considering our underrepresented minority students, faculty, and staff, the groups our Strategic Plan 2016–2021 focuses on most closely. Our work to make progress is already underway, and I am proud of our recent achievements. Just this week, Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity ranked UI Health Care No. 16 among 250 employers nationwide and No. 1 in its “Healthcare & Social” category. We are building on such accomplishments with numerous opportunities for campus to participate in improving our climate for diversity:

  • Jan. 18 through Feb. 28, 2018: Faculty and Staff Diversity, Equity, 
    and Inclusion Survey 
  • Spring 2018: Graduate Student Experiences of Research Universities (SERU)
  • March 2018: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Forum
  • April 2018: Faculty and Staff Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Stakeholder 
    Listening and Strategy Sessions 
  • Fall 2018: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan

I am excited about these opportunities for engagement, but our attention to diversity is not a new focus at the UI. Our Hawkeye identity emerged from our willingness to discover excellence in all people. Legendary mentoring relationships between leading professors and talented students of color reflect a tradition of excellence that placed diverse students at the heart of our reputation for distinction. To be sure, the excellence that diversity work sustains is not separate from our core research, teaching, and service mission: it is inextricably bound up in every aspect of our work. As our new statement on diversity suggests, at the UI, we truly do achieve Excellence through Diversity:

The University of Iowa’s status as a premier research university depends on the robust exchange of ideas. The diversity of our students, faculty, and staff helps us fulfill our mission to explore, discover, create, and engage. Thus, we are committed to supporting every Hawkeye’s pursuit of excellence. As we enhance the breadth and depth of our perspectives, we purposefully prepare for our future. Our ability to foster an equitable environment for all who join the UI family will determine our collective success. We eagerly accept this challenge.

I invite you to assist our efforts!