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Minorities seeking redress, counseling

BY JOHN DOETKOTT | OCTOBER 14, 2009 7:30 AM

Diversity and counseling

Statistics on campus diversity and minority and female visitors to counseling services:

• 9.6 percent of student population are minorities
• 18 percent of visitors to Office of the Ombudsperson were minorities
• 15 percent of visitors to University Counseling Service were minorities
• 51 percent of student population are women
• 64 percent of visitors to Office of the Ombudsperson were women

Source: Ombudsperson annual report

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UI counseling offices are seeing more minority visitors than expected for a range of reasons, including ethnic discrimination, academic issues, and conflict resolution.

The annual report from the Office of the Ombudsperson for the 2008-09 academic year shows people from minority groups frequent the office in greater numbers than university demographics would predict. Minorities made up 18 percent of visitors to the office last year, while making up 9.6 of the UI population.

Sam Cochran, the director of the University Counseling Service, said numbers at that office also reflect a disparity — 15 percent of visitors are minorities.

UI Ombudsperson Lois Cox, along with fellow Ombudsperson Cynthia Joyce, offers students, faculty, and staff help with complaints or concerns regarding the university and reports trends of “substantive or procedural unfairness” to university officials.

“We do think the difference is notable,” Cox said. “This issue we’re talking about with everyone.”

Cox noted that not all of the concerns brought by minority students dealt with ethnicity, but she said she heard several students complain of teachers not understanding cultural differences, something she called a “failure of empathy.”

UI sophomore Brandon Parker, the president of the UI Black Student Union, said though he has never been directly attacked for his ethnicity, he’s been put in uncomfortable situations by teachers who singled him out in class to talk about such issues.

“I’m not sure they mean harm by it,” he said. “It’s truly out of pure ignorance.”

He described a friend whose roommate put up racially charged images in their room that invoked the Ku Klux Klan. No disciplinary actions were ever taken, he said.

“When that happens, it’s easy for students to feel they have no one on their side, that their needs aren’t important,” Parker said. “I think it’s mature that they are seeking help.”

Rachel Williams, a UI associate professor who serves on the Internationalization and Diversity Task Force, said the issue goes beyond the UI campus.

“We all feel we’re well-versed in diversity,” she said. “The reality is that race is still a tremendous issue in Iowa City.”

Cox presented the report to the UI Faculty Council earlier this year and said she would continue to make presentations to administrators and student groups as the year continues.

“Our aim is to raise awareness,” she said, “and our hope is that people on campus will react to this.”


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