Tab Wiggins, assistant director for multicultural programs, sees positive changes on UI campus
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Tab Wiggins says she believes she was called to fight against the status quo. She first thought a career in law would be the best way to do that. Then she thought it was teaching high school. But as an undergraduate at Western Illinois University, where she served as a resident assistant and as vice president of student government, she discovered her niche: working with college students.

For more information about the University of Iowa’s multicultural programming and resources, visit

“I found that I was having really good conversations and educational moments with my peers and with the students on my floor,” she says. “It came naturally.”

The Chicago native later earned a master’s degree in college student personnel administration at the University of Central Missouri and was recruited to work at the University of Iowa. Her first job on campus was as hall coordinator for Slater and Mayflower residence halls. She now serves as assistant director for multicultural programs in the UI Division of Student Life and oversees the four cultural and resource centers on campus: the Afro-American Cultural Center; the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center; the Latino Native American Cultural Center; and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Resource Center.

Wiggins says she has seen a cultural change on campus since she arrived in 2011, and is excited by the progress being made. She recently spoke to Iowa Now about her work.

What do you do? What is a typical day like?

I oversee the four cultural and resource centers, which means managing our budget and creating the vision for what we do. I work with our staff to implement that vision to have focus around social justice education programming. We have about 30 student employees throughout the school year.

I don’t know that I have a typical day. I frequently meet with students in crisis, advising and counseling them, and I meet daily with my staff and weekly as a unit. I chair the MLK Celebration of Human Rights Week committee and advise two student groups: Voices of Soul and Sista Speak. I’m an extra level of support for all of the student groups that are advised throughout the multicultural programs area. I also teach a Leadership for Social Justice course and a Career Leadership Academy course.

What do the cultural and resource centers offer to students?

The coordinators at each center guide student organizations in the multicultural area through their event planning processes and mentor the organizations’ leadership. The centers also offer leadership development opportunities, culturally specific programming, study spaces, and simply a place to find community with others. Students can just come and chill.

Last fall the university committed to hiring a dedicated staff member for each center. How has that affected the services offered?

With the influx of human resources and a boost in our financial resources from UI Student Government, we are able to do more culture- and identity-specific programming. The centers develop, implement, and assess programming for LGBTQ History Month, LatinX Heritage Month, MLK Jr. Celebration of Human Rights Week, the UI Powwow, and LatinX in Action Week. So instead of just collecting and disseminating information about events, we’re the ones putting them on. We’re also starting to host lectures.

Also, the students say they now feel they have someone they can always go to. In the past, we only had one fulltime person and three graduate assistants working with the centers. Now, we always have someone in the centers between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and a lot of nights too. Ultimately, I’d like to have even more staff available, in addition to offering more workshops and trainings focusing on social justice and peer mentoring.

What was your most memorable day on campus?

The day the KKK effigy was placed on the Pentacrest in the fall of 2014. (Editor’s note: The display was an unapproved art installation.) It changed my life, for sure, but I think that it also changed our campus. At the time, I was working for University Housing and Dining, but after that event I was moved to the Office of the Vice President for Student Life to work on multicultural programming. It was an opportunity for our campus to galvanize and start having a conversation about race.

Because of that incident, the Black Hawkeyes group formed and began to meet regularly, and other developments included the creation of the Young, Gifted, and Black Living Learning Community, securing an adviser for a black male scholar program called the Hubbard Group, and kicking off the black student success initiative known as Being Black at Iowa.

Do you feel areas of concern to students are being addressed?

In the last three years, there has definitely been a culture change on campus. Students feel more empowered than ever to talk with the administration about issues that are troubling their communities. There is a lot of coalition building between groups that have been historically marginalized. Not only is there is positive energy around making the cultural and resource centers a staple on campus, there is talk and excitement about creating more centers.

I credit our strategic plan and our president for this positive change. Both prioritize creating a more inclusive campus. Every interaction I’ve had with President Harreld about how to create an environment where marginalized students feel safe, valued, and affirmed has been authentic. He talks about the centers often and he frequently visits them. If I invite him to an event, he shows up. That top-down leadership is really important, and the students are taking notice. Also, Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers has an amazing amount of energy for issues of equity and inclusion.

What inspires or motivates you?

Knowing that I have a calling to serve, and to serve our historically marginalized students and staff. I believe that it is my duty to fight against the status quo. Not only will I fight for the rest of my life, we will win. The entire campus will be multicultural. Our entire world will become socially just. I believe that in my soul.