Chanelle Reese became Iowa’s University Ombudsperson on June 21 following the retirement of Cynthia Joyce, who held the position for 16 years.
Reese served as the Senior Associate Ombudsperson in the Office of the Corporate Ombuds at the University of California, Merced, for three years before joining the Iowa staff, but being an ombudsperson wasn’t always part of Reese’s plan, and the University of Iowa wasn’t thought to be the place.
After stints on the east and west coasts, the Michigan native talks about her return to the Midwest, the reason behind becoming an ombudsperson, what her office provides to the UI community, and why Iowa was the perfect place to settle.
Q. What is your background and what led you to becoming an ombudsperson?
Reese: After getting my undergraduate degree in psychology, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to specialize in for my master’s degree. Everyone would say to me, ‘You should go to law school, you are an analytical thinker,’ but the only part I liked about law school was negotiation, so I thought about an episode of the TV show, “The Good Wife,” which was about getting people to a resolution without having to go to court. I was living in Maryland at the time and saw that the University of Baltimore had a master’s program in negotiation and conflict management. I took mediation and arbitration classes and that is when I learned about the ombuds profession. After my first nationwide search, the first job I got was in the ombuds office at the American Red Cross, and that’s how I knew that was going to be my trajectory.
Q. What drew you toward working in higher education?
A: I would say my love for education. When I was a student, I was very focused on academics. So, from a social standpoint, I didn’t enjoy college the way some students do, but I enjoyed the quest of doing the work to get the grade I was trying to get. In this position, I get to work in higher education and I get to enjoy it. I enjoy helping people achieve their academic endeavors. But I also get to go do things that I didn’t do as a student.
Q. Why did you choose the University of Iowa?
A: I was looking for a place to settle, plant roots, find a sense of community, and do my job. I came to the University of Iowa and Iowa City with zero expectations, and I fell in love with it. It’s the truth that when I came here for the interview, I was walking around the city and the pedestrian mall fresh off the plane. I never do that. For me to do that while I was exhausted told me that I really liked this area a lot. I like how the campus intertwines with the city and it gave me that sense of community.
Q. What kinds of services does the Office of the Ombudsperson provide?
A: A concise way of saying it is the Office of the Ombudsperson exists as an informal, impartial, confidential, and independent resource for anyone with a university-related concern. It doesn’t have to be a big, egregious thing. It could be something as simple as having difficulty navigating a conversation with a peer. Our slogan is, nothing too big or small, let’s talk.
Q. What is your philosophy around conflict resolution?
A: My philosophy is different depending on if I am working with a group or an individual. For groups, it’s about giving people processes to follow, such as a mediation or group facilitation, which are different than somebody asking us to facilitate a conversation. My goal is to instill on campus that we have these processes in place that allow everyone the same opportunity to be heard. People might use them differently, but if you have the same opportunity to be heard and then choose not to move forward with a resolution for whatever reason, that’s your informed decision after participating in the process.
For individuals, my philosophy is more about getting a person to a place to make an informed decision after exploring all the angles, possibilities, and options based on the situation. No matter what stage they are in the conflict, my first questions are, ‘What has been done so far and who have you talked to?’ That history helps me use our time efficiently to talk about the person’s goals, options to consider, and the pros and cons of each. This allows a person to make an informed decision. If you make an informed decision about how you want to resolve something, whether or not it goes your way, at least you are firm in your understanding of why you did what you did, rather than being reactive to something without thinking things through.
Q. Are the services that the Office of the Ombudsperson provides confidential?
A: Yes, there are two exceptions. The two exceptions to confidentiality are an imminent threat of harm to yourself or others and if someone shares information about a crime committed on campus, I might have to report that. Those exceptions are shared before the session starts to make sure you are comfortable (with) what you are about to share.
Q. What have you enjoyed about living in Iowa City so far?
A: I have been on the East Coast and West Coast and I wanted some place where I could settle. Iowa City is exactly what I was looking for in my life. I wanted smaller. I still wanted amenities of a big city, and I wanted proximity. Believe it or not, the fact I can get to three or four major sports franchises in three or four hours was appealing to me. That is nice to be in the middle of everything. It sealed the deal for me. I used to never care about where I lived, it was only about my work. But this time I got the bonus of everything. I got the position I wanted, the office dynamic I am looking for, the opportunity to grow, and proximity with my location. I like a good bike path.
Click here to visit the Office of the Ombudsperson website to learn more about the office, make an appointment, and more.