A Framework for DEI at Iowa
Monday, April 3, 2023

Liz Tovar

I have been able to experience first-hand the joy and unity of our Women’s Basketball team on their historic run to the NCAA Final Four.  The way their team has learned to foster diversity of talents across each player, be open to constructive feedback, and work together toward a common goal is an amazing foundation for success. There is so much we can learn from this team in the DEI space, especially during a time when our approach to campus DEI is being challenged. 


Last week I was honored to present at the annual Staff Council DEI celebration at the IMU. President Wilson opened the event with a very meaningful speech to the group with three key takeaways I want to share with you:

  1. A university is healthiest when it reflects the society that we serve.
  2. By definition, a university needs to include multiple perspectives and strive to foster dialogue and understanding among differences.
  3. The definition of diversity on our campus must be broad.

I’ll add one more:  The role of DEI on a college campus is to help us sustain a campus culture where everyone has the opportunity to contribute, reach their full potential, and prepare a generation of students to be leaders in a global society.

This last point is critical, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for students. Our purpose isn’t just to teach students the practical or scientific facts of their field of study, but we also teach the skillsets they need to compete for jobs and lead our society beyond their time at Iowa.


I presented to our Faculty Senate last week.  Our faculty are a critical part of our campus culture.   Through research, teaching, and service faculty encourage diversity of viewpoints and the people who stretch the minds of our students.  As an institution, our work to protect academic freedom is the cornerstone to being able to provide the best environment for learning.


I've heard from and listened to numerous students, faculty, and staff over the past month. Your concerns about the future of DEI do not go unnoticed. However, now is the time for us to keep the momentum from this academic year going and help others understand what DEI means.

One of my favorite authors is Adam Grant an organizational psychologist who explores the science of motivation, original thinking, and rethinking.

One of his central themes is, “If knowledge is power, then knowing what you don’t know is wisdom.”

I can tell you there’s so much that people do not know or realize about the breadth and depth of work within the DEI space.

We have massive misperceptions of DEI. We need to better define what we mean when we say DEI rather than having others define it for us.

Now, more than ever, DEI is being challenged – but like Iowa women’s basketball, we do not back down in the face of opposition.

With all of these challenges, I look at this moment in time as a massive opportunity to focus our efforts and evaluate how we provide the best possible experience for everyone.  The one constant we have on our campus and as a university is CHANGE.  We are 176 years young, and if we look back at our history to use as a guide for our future, it tells us we are at our best when we are evolving to meet the needs of our students, faculty, staff, and community to lead and shape our society and its economy. 


As you are aware, President Richards of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, will conduct a study of DEI at all three institutions.  I see this as a positive step forward.  The more we can bring people around the table with constructive dialogue to understand all viewpoints is the definition of progress. 

I am looking forward to working with our regents and my peers at the regent institutions to maximize this opportunity to meet the needs of our communities to provide the best possible experience we can on all three campuses.  I also will do everything I can to communicate with you on the progression of our work.


There are four questions that I ask you to consider as we drive and shape the work in the DEI space and our campus culture, together:  

  1. How can we more clearly define what DEI is and is not? For example, I often talk about Culture. Why? Because culture is easier to understand. To create a productive institutional culture for that matter we need people to be receptive to constructive feedback, recognize and appreciate the diversity in talents and abilities, and work together toward a common goal. Is there a clearer definition of DEI that is consistent across all spaces?
  2. How can we set clear goals with measurable outcomes that have a positive impact on our communities?  I talked earlier about thinking about the outcomes, and skill sets that our students need. Is there a way for us to partner with area business leaders and ask them these questions and make sure our students have the educational opportunities to gain these skill sets? 
  3. How can our campus culture focus on differences, not divisiveness?  How can we foster a culture where disrupting divineness is a common occurrence? How can we unify our campus and celebrate our differences without dividing ourselves just to be heard?
  4. Who can we partner with to do right? Let's work with those with whom we have shared common ground.

Culture, community, and common ground are priority areas for DEI at Iowa.   

Thank you for your work, thank you for your patience, and thank you for your commitment to making the University of Iowa a welcoming and inclusive experience for everyone, each day.

Go Hawks!

Liz Tovar