Diversity in Iowa, Revisited

Last November I wrote about some discussions I had with my fellow chief academic officers at Iowa private colleges and universities at our annual meeting about how to increase the diversity of faculty and staff members at our respective institutions. The discussion that followed this meeting, both in public and private responses to my post and among my colleagues here in Iowa, was extremely interesting and productive. In fact, we attracted a job application in one of our searches as a direct result of that discussion, and I am happy and grateful that we had that outcome.

The CAO’s just met again last week and returned to the question of how to recruit a more diverse faculty and staff to our campuses. This will surely be a durable issue because we face structural and cultural challenges that make rapid progress in this area unlikely.

However, we did generate some interesting ideas that I hope we can follow up. One of the challenges facing every private (and public) institution in Iowa is the national perception that it’s a monocultural state with very little diversity of any type—ethnic, racial, political, class, etc. This perception is not wholly true, though there are parts of it that at least partly reflect reality, and we need both to accommodate the reality and clarify in what ways the stereotype is simply not true.

For example, as part of a project proposal I’ve recently prepared, I did some research on the demographics of Storm Lake and Buena Vista County. The county is over 22 percent Hispanic-all races (to use the census category) and nearly 5 percent Asian. Storm Lake itself, according to Richard C. Longworth in Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism, is about 30 percent Hispanic (Bloomsbury, 2008, p. 115; Longworth’s discussion of Storm Lake occupies pp. 111-120). Our campus’s Hispanic enrollment has gone from 29 students in the fall of 2006, which at the time represented about 2.5 percent of the resident undergraduate population, to 65 this fall, which represents 7.2 percent. (This percentage change shows both an increase in Hispanic student enrollment and a decline in overall campus enrollment.)

Yet at the moment we don’t have a single Latino faculty member, and almost no Latino members of the professional staff, and very rarely do such candidates turn up in applicant pools. This clearly needs to change.

So, one of the things my statewide colleagues and I agree that we need to do is show more clearly, in our specific recruitment efforts as well as more broadly and collectively, that Iowa is not, in fact, 100 percent white people of European extraction. Longworth argues, and I am inclined to agree, that the rural Midwest could become a more dynamic and vital culture through responding constructively to changes in American demographics, as well as by embracing and taking advantage of the diversity that has already arrived.

The question, though, is how to get the message out. You can’t hire people who don’t apply, and we need to pursue aggressive strategies to change the composition of our pools to make the hiring possible. This is in no way about creating so-called special opportunities for diverse candidates—it’s about getting strong diverse candidates to be interested in the opportunities that are already here.

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