Ask a Student: Celebrating Student Activism at Iowa Isabela Flores

Isabela Flores outside

By: Chelsea Burke

Isabela Flores is a fifth-year student studying elementary education. She is minoring in Latino/a Studies and receiving a certificate in critical cultural competence. For the last four years, Isabela has spent ample time working within the University of Iowa Cultural Centers, especially the Latino Native American Cultural Center (LNACC), where she serves as the student lead. Isabela has been involved in many organizations and clubs and has taken advantage of many leadership development opportunities on campus. Some of these include being a student participant in Alternative Spring Break (ASB), attending LeaderShape, and serving as president of the Association of Latinos Moving Ahead (ALMA). An initiative Isabela has implemented alongside her sister, Simona Flores, and Iowa alum Aralia Ramirez is the annual Womxn’s Summit that is held in the spring semester. As of last spring, Isabela has taken on the role of director of justice and equity within the University of Iowa Student Government (UISG) as well as being a member of the Lecture Committee.

What makes you passionate about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion?  
My identities as a young, Latina womxn coming from a working-class family align with these buzz words (diversity, equity, and inclusion), and for me, it is important in knowing who is making decisions on behalf of my identities as well as other marginalized peoples’ identities. I have an interest in working with diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as it allows me to learn how groups of people, organizations, and institutions are (or are not) making strides toward creating environments where people are able to show up as their full selves, with all the identities they hold; having conversations where marginalized communities are centered; and developing initiatives that are most equitable and appropriate based on people’s needs. Ultimately, my passion for engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion work stems from working with communities to amplify the needs and desires of groups of people who are, historically, left out of conversations; assisting in the creation of more achievable opportunities for these people; and insuring the work is sustainable for future generations.

What efforts of student activism on campus—from the past school year and ongoing—are exciting to you, and why?  
This past spring, I was in awe of the work of the students who created the #DoesUIowaLoveMe social media movement, and I was proud to be a part of this student group. Although there has been activism on campus, whether in the form of rallies, campaigns, and/or stand-ins, I had yet to see a movement that was inclusive of so many people, ranging from race and ethnicity to sexual orientation, religious affiliations, and gender identity. In a way, this movement allowed for people, specifically marginalized students, to share their truths, their realities, in a very public way. The vulnerability and courage that the storytellers had was beautifully heartbreaking. The stories did not provide any other option but for administrators, faculty, and staff to sit back and pay attention. I am thankful to the creators of the #DoesUIowaLoveMe movement for having a well thought out approach that initiated critical conversations for administrators, faculty, and staff to have. I am excited to see how the student group and our work continues to grow, and I am eager to continue to witness the work of administrators in making this campus a safer, healthier, more welcoming place.

What kinds of student activism and institutional change would you like to see going forward?
As far as student activism, I’m looking forward to witnessing more radical, direct approaches that incite more accountability from administration, faculty, and staff. I am aware of the efforts that are being carried out through the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan, as well as the work that our amazing VP of Student Life, Dr. Melissa Shivers, is leading and I am interested in seeing how things will unfold this year and in the future. Moving forward, I would love to witness the University of Iowa administration, faculty, and staff pondering the idea and/or question(s): “How can the University of Iowa reciprocate the idea of investment into all of our students? How can the University of Iowa invest in and better consider marginalized students on campus?” As tuition rises little by little, it is imperative that the University of Iowa recognizes the investment students are putting into this university and finds ways to reciprocate this investment, especially to students who, again, are left out of consideration and conversations.