Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Mar. 20, 1998

ISU community members share thoughts on campus diversity

Inside recently invited a group of faculty, staff and students to a roundtable discussion of diversity issues at Iowa State. Discussion covered such topics as a proposed multicultural center, the undergraduate diversity requirement and mentoring students.

Roundtable participants

In this Inside and the next two issues, we'll share some of the comments of roundtable panelists.

The following is part of their discussion about the effectiveness of recent diversity-related initiatives at Iowa State.

Dougharty: I think a lot of things that we try to do to address the climate are really these kind of feel-good opportunities that really have very little to do with changing the culture, which from my perspective, is a pretty patriarchal Western European culture. The way I define them is: "Culture" is the way things are; "climate" is how we feel about the way things are -- and of course, it's a lot easier to affect the climate.

A lot of things that we do, I think, unfortunately, are simply attempts to affect the climate. That's not to say that we should turn our backs on things that affect the climate, because that's the easiest place to start. But I think we need to think about what are the things we're doing to affect the climate that will ultimately budge the rigid culture here, which is not a particularly inclusive culture.

Paxson: The American Indian Symposium is in its 27th year. I would bet ... there are faculty who have been here for a good number of those 27 years who have never been to any of them and if you asked them about it, wouldn't know it exists. [If the university doesn't support it financially and it's not necessarily going to occur every year], it says a huge amount to the students who work on it [and others] who might benefit from it. You put money into what looks good as opposed to maybe something that doesn't have so much presence -- it's not a big splash in the newspaper -- but has impact on the lives of some individual students.

Nortey: When events are being planned, if they encompass the whole community -- Iowa State and the Ames community -- then you have better opportunities for learning and that increases diversity. [When Carver professors and others come to campus, the main emphasis should not be that they are different but that] they have something interesting to say and people are going to learn from that.

Tandia: It would seem to me that diversity at Iowa State is an institutional value. I see little things we're doing here and there to address that need. What I'm not quite sure is if it is a need of the student.

Salvador: The thing that is right to do is that which best meets the needs of the students that come to us, whether that is their own self-perceived need or a need that we know from experience ... that they will have in the future. There are many students who come to Iowa State who believe that they will be able to refuge in a little town in Iowa for the rest of their lives and therefore the preparation needs to aim for that type of environment, and that anything that gets in the way is an obstacle, or at the very least, unnecessary and an inefficient use of time. The world is a large, interdependent, complicated place where we will not have the luxury of essentially dealing with our own kind, those that we're happy with. We have to be able to realize the extent to which we depend on people of all types from all over the world.

Perera: From what I've heard from my friends, they don't really want [a diversity requirement], because some of them are engineers and they say, "It doesn't really affect us. It doesn't get us toward graduation, etc." I'm an international student and when I first came here, I told my adviser, "Hel-LO, I've had lots of cultural experiences. I don't understand why I should be doing this. But he made me take a class ... and it opened my eyes about other parts of the world. There's always going to be a certain percentage of students who will say, "It's not going to help us at all." But overall, it will open some people's eyes.

Paxson: Your hope is that instead of having a special class for [diversity-related content], those kinds of things are going to impact the curriculum at all levels. Instead of having a class on the "history of women in art" or "women artists," maybe [those topics] should go into the survey class -- "art history." I guess you have to take a certain step first, but it is kind of amazing that, as a history teacher, you think you have this block of information to teach, and well, you can't squeeze any more in, so forget all that other stuff that's not so central.

Stein: We will be making great strides in the diversity requirement and in the classroom when we regard diversity not only as content but also as method. I regard diversity as valuing individual differences. When faculty begin to build that respect of individuals into their lesson plans and allow students to contribute much of their expertise to the subject at hand, then I think we're truly instituting diversity and that can happen in every course at the institution. It's as much methodology and respect for each individual that enters the classroom as it is for the actual content.

Salvador: In the end, the way that [the diversity requirement] was dealt with was to realize that this kind of thing couldn't be mandated, that you could not have brand new courses created whose purpose would be to catechize people about their views on diversity. You would create all kinds of counter-productive, cynical views if people were forced to take courses they didn't feel were necessary. So essentially what was done was to create large databases of existing courses that would meet a requirement for multi-culturalism. We realized it was a poor stepchild of a preferred approach, which is that multicultural values ought to be infused throughout the entire curriculum and through the entire institution.

But an institution is made up of the people that run it and if we're dissatisfied with the attributes of the institution, what needs to change are the people that run it. That's a gradual process. I think we're all in favor of doing that by selecting good people who are the best academics (they're the best at what we hire them to do) who, at the same time, are open-minded individuals. I don't believe there are explicit conspiracies that we need to work against. I think there's a lot of inertia out there and changes available for the making.

Tandia: One of the most wonderful courses I have taken here at Iowa State was taught by two or three faculty members in technology of social change. I also went through Dialogues on Diversity (a diversity seminar for faculty and staff). The question I would raise in my mind: "Why wasn't I in a class like this when I was an under-graduate student? I felt they were some of the most wonderful courses that I had taken.

Dougharty: The thing that's important about a Dialogues on Diversity experience from my perspective -- that is different from these multicultural requirement courses -- is that Dialogues on Diversity asks students to unpack their own bags. It asks them to look inside before they start looking outside. You spend some time looking at yourself and saying, "What are my values and what are my prejudices? What sort of baggage did I bring to this campus?" These kinds of experiences allow us to do that and we don't give many undergraduate opportunities for that to happen.

Next: Roundtable members look at ideas for a multicultural center at Iowa State.

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