Statewide summit focuses on diversity in schools

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | APRIL 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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PELLA, Iowa — Making Iowa colleges and universities more inclusive could have a positive effect on graduates who stay in the state.

On Wednesday, higher-education officials gathered in Pella, Iowa, for the sixth-annual Diversity Recruitment and Retention Summit to discuss how to make their schools more welcoming. The event included 11 discussions aimed at making Iowa more inclusive for minorities.

“I think, in essence, what we are hoping to do is help people understand the differences that are between us shouldn’t be so scary that we would rather run away from them instead of learning about confronting them head on,” said Brandyn Woodard, the director of inter-cultural life at Central College.

Around 100 people attended the event, which was put on by the Iowa’s Impacting Diversity through Educational Alliances.

“What tends to happen is, when we create these programs and initiatives in the community, it spills over and has a positive effect on everyone,” said University of Iowa Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge.

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Eleven percent of UI students are minorities, according to the registrar’s website. This semester at Iowa State University, more than 9 percent of students were a minority. At the University of Northern Iowa, more than 11 percent of students are minorities.

The event’s keynote speaker, Raynard Kington, the president of Grinnell College, talked about exposing new minority students to research opportunities.

“We hope to sort of humanize what they are seeing on paper,” he said.

During a one-week orientation called the Grinnell Science Project — started in 1992 — faculty at Grinnell College show off the opportunities offered at the institution to potential students in hopes of increasing interest in science.

While the program is not new, the effects are lasting — Grinnell is one of the top colleges in the country for students who go on to earn Ph.D.s, Kington said.

Sexual diversity was another popular topic at the summit.

Dwight Watson, another speaker at the conference and dean of the University of Northern Iowa College of Education, described the struggle students have with correctly recognizing their sexual identities in high school and during the transition into a college or university.

“My hope is, if college students have thoughts about their sexual identities, the university would be open and have outlets for them,” said Watson as he munched on a bowl of popcorn between sessions at the conference.

Teigha Van, a senior at Central College, attended Watson’s session because she wanted to offer support to a gay friend by trying to understand what he or she goes through, she said.

Ultimately, Woodard said it’s up to everyone to promote Iowa.

“We do have significant role to play in selling the Iowa education system and selling Iowa …” he said.

“Business, government, private and public industries need to find ways to make sure we keep the best and brightest here.”

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