Amidst concerns regarding racial discrimination on campus, administration announced last year UNI would be hiring a Chief Diversity Officer.
Since this initial announcement, a national search for the position was conducted, which has resulted in five final candidates being brought to campus.
According to a press release issued by the Office of University Relations, the Chief Diversity Officer’s central role will be to “provide senior-level leadership to the university’s campus diversity and inclusion efforts, in addition to serving on the President’s Executive Management Team (EMT).”
Robert Smith, executive director of the UNI Center for Urban Education, serves as the search committee chair. He explained how the Chief Diversity Officer will work to not only end discrimination issues on campus, but also promote positive inclusion initiatives.
“I think people need to understand that this position is not just about dealing with complaints,” Smith said. “The position is here to help us celebrate and recognize a lot of the good things that we do, as opposed to being the ‘police person.’”
Smith went on to describe the extensive search process. He said that the search committee had started reviewing approximately 60 applications in early March.
The committee then conducted phone interviews with 11 candidates, after which they further whittled down the number of candidates to just five finalists.
These five final candidates are: Roberto Sanabria, Rickey Hall, Gwenne Berry, John Bello-Ogunu and Diane Marie Ariza.
All five candidates will be visiting campus in the upcoming weeks and will participate in campus open forums. In addition, each candidate will engage with students in a student-only forum the day before their respective campus open forum.
Sanabria was the first candidate to visit campus. His open forum took place on April 12 in Room 109 of the Center for Multicultural Education (CME).
The remaining campus open forums will take place on April 14, 18, 22 and 28 at 1:30 p.m. The first three will also take place in the Room 109 of the CME, while the last one will be held in the Elm Room of the Maucker Union.
Smith explained that several years of planning and thought had went into the final decision to hire a Chief Diversity Officer.
“This wasn’t just a knee jerk reaction to concerns some of the students of color had on campus,” Smith said. “This was talked about two, three years ago […] The other two universities have a Chief Diversity Officer, so it just makes sense to go ahead and move forward and do what’s being done.”
Statistics from a 2012 study conducted by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education indicate that ethnic diversity among Iowa high school graduates (and potential college freshmen) is on the rise. Smith explained that this growing trend will likely lead to more diverse college campuses.
“The position helps us understand that the demographics – they’re going to change,” he said. “As they get ahead of things, [we can] make sure that the university is ready to embrace students no matter where they come from.”
According to the data, 31,220 white, non-Hispanic Iowan students graduated from high school in 1996, while only 524 Hispanic students graduated. Conversely, 26,771 white, non-Hispanic Iowan students are projected to graduate from high school in 2019, compared to 3,027 Hispanic students.
Smith compared the questions surrounding the new Chief Diversity Officer Position with the various questions raised when college football coach Hayden Fry had given an African American college student a scholarship and an opportunity to play football in the 1960s.
“Like Hayden [Fry] in the 1960s, people didn’t understand,” Smith said. “And now, when we think of sports today, we don’t look at sports thinking of kids as different races. We just root for our teams. 50 years ago, it mattered…Five years from now, a Chief Diversity Officer on college campuses – people won’t be writing about it. It won’t be an issue.”
Smith further likened the role of the new position to the progressive changes that people like Fry had worked to achieve in the past.
“The goal of a Chief Diversity Officer is to make sure that we’re all playing on the same playing field and we’re all treated with the utmost respect,” Smith said. “This is just another coach on the team helping the administration.”