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Diversity as a ladder

BY BRITTANY BIERLE | APRIL 27, 2010 7:30 AM

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Terryl Ross’ vision for the future of diversity at the University of Iowa is like a ladder.

At one end, there are people who don’t care about diversity. At the other are those who have a passion for it. And then there are the people in between.

If UI officials can get everyone on that ladder to move up one rung, he said, it would make a whole different school and community.

Ross, the last of five candidates to be interviewed for the position of chief diversity officer, gave his presentation to around 50 people Monday morning.

Wearing a black suit and dark-blue tie, Ross paced among audience members, far from the screen that displayed a list of obstacles to his goal of boosting diversity at the UI. Those obstacles, he said, include the lack of trust throughout the university and community, political correctness, and the officials trying to do too many things at once.

“I feel that the kids do get diversity,” he said. “Now, they just need help moving it forward.”

Ross, the current community and diversity director at Oregon State University, said to overcome the obstacles, officials need to hold people responsible for their actions.

That’s why he likes the sound of the UI position, which is part of the president’s cabinet. Ross said he could be more proactive in holding people responsible at the UI than he can be at his current job.

The chief diversity officer at the UI has responsibilities that include monitoring equity efforts among students, staff, and faculty, overseeing offices that implement programming for underrepresented populations, and dealing with discrimination and harassment complaints.

Before taking his current position at Oregon State, Ross helped create diversity plans at the University of Washington and Green River Community College in Auburn, Wash.

He is also the founder and a leader of the Multicultural Organization of Students Actively Involved in Change. Being affiliated with the group for eight years has allowed him to develop and lead an annual diversity summit in Seattle. The organization also brought many groups from various universities together to move forward with their diversity ideas.

At Oregon State, Ross is using what coworker Victoria Nguyen, the university’s diversity development director, described as a passion for filmmaking in producing videos of students talking about campus diversity issues.

Featuring students is more effective than having him or faculty lecturing, Ross believes.

During the Monday event, when an audience member asked Ross what the university’s role is in helping diversity thrive, he answered immediately.

“The worst thing is to have people leave the university saying bad things,” he said. “We should take care of the people who are committed to the university.”

Keri Hornbuckle, a co-head of the search committee, said the members had selected an “amazing group” of candidates, and the decision would likely be based less on qualifications than on who fits the UI best.

Now, the committee will organize responses from the public and present it to UI President Sally Mason and Provost Wallace Loh.


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