Realizing the message of excellence through diversity

sun shining through trees on central campus

Our sincere gratitude to Dr. Lena M. Hill for her leadership, vision, and strong foundation for moving forward.

The term “diversity” is often overused and little understood. As higher education leaders across the nation extol the virtues of seeking a diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environment, the University of Iowa has committed to explaining its distinctive motivation for improving its climate. Part of this process involves communicating a message that reflects our values and institutional identity, and we are excited to refine and broadly share our ideas.

Our insistence upon linking “excellence” and “diversity” rests upon a fundamental belief that to prepare students to thrive in an increasingly diverse nation and world, the UI must provide an educational experience attuned to this contemporary reality. Whether students are studying in STEM or the humanities; completing undergraduate, graduate, or professional degrees; or participating in athletics, leadership opportunities, or countless other available programs, they benefit immeasurably from an institution that is home to diverse peers, faculty, and staff. The varied life experiences, cultural backgrounds, and identities UI stakeholders bring to our work infuses all that we do with the creativity and energy necessary to achieve excellence. Our geographic home in a state that is more racially homogenous than many necessitates our resolute attention to addressing the challenge of building a diverse educational community.

The UI recognized this truth many years ago. We boast many firsts that spotlight our dedication to promoting equality and diversity. The UI was the first state university in the U.S. to admit men and women on an equal basis, the first law school to award a law degree to a woman, and likely the first law school to award a law degree to an African American. This rich legacy is not merely the foundation upon which we build; it is also an established trust we must honor.  

This is no easy task: recruiting and retaining more diverse Hawkeyes is challenging work. It is not enough simply to proclaim that we achieve excellence through diversity. Developing a message represents a starting point that announces the University of Iowa’s values and encourages a wide range of stakeholders to commit to a single vision. It is the work that follows the message that determines whether meaningful, enduring progress occurs. Yet we must identify a starting point. In recognition of this truth, the Chief Diversity Office developed a cohesive message that leaders throughout our complex institution can embrace. We urge students, faculty, and staff to appreciate the fact that we must improve our diversity to remain a leading research university.  

When we study the UI numbers of diverse students, faculty, and staff and track the success of diverse stakeholders, we quickly acknowledge that there is much work to do. Data never tells the entire story of our institutional identity, but it offers an indispensable snapshot of where we need to focus our efforts. Measuring our progress across the different groups that comprise the Hawkeye family makes us accountable to our mission of seeking excellence for all, and this is why our message is inextricably tied to our metrics.

To achieve greater accountably, the Chief Diversity Office is currently developing the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Collegiate Digest. In its initial phase, academic leaders will create digests through a portal that will help the Chief Diversity Office track diversity, equity, and inclusion progress in each college. Completed digests will be shared annually with campus and used to assess the progress of the UI Strategic Plan. The digests will provide access to diversity data, collegiate definitions of diversity, as well as individual efforts toward DEI recruitment, retention, and climate goals. We hope these digests will enhance accountability for and communication about DEI objectives across the institution.

The information gathered through the digests—together with the findings from climate surveys and listening sessions—will provide a foundation to develop an institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion action plan. A DEI Action Plan that stands on ideas and feedback from stakeholders across the UI will provide a sturdy base from which a new chief diversity officer and associate vice president can strategize for the future. This leader will benefit from a plan that conveys where we are, who we are, and the nature of our priorities.

At the University of Iowa, we stand on our history and build on our successes. As we join together to make the UI a more welcoming and inclusive institution, we follow a path of trailblazers who came before us and set a high bar that we cannot afford to fail to reach. We invite every Hawkeye to join our efforts to make the message of achieving excellence through diversity a reality.

University leaders and pioneers