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A message on diversity and inclusion in CALS from Dean Robison

Note: The following was included in Dean Daniel J. Robison's weekly message to CALS faculty and staff Friday, June 5, 2020.

June 5, 2020

Hello CALS Colleagues,

This has been an intense week, with more COVID planning and budget considerations, as well as the demonstrations and need for positive social change brought into renewed focus by George Floyd’s life and murder.

We stand, especially right now, with our Black colleagues and students, their families, and their communities, mourning the loss of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others. I can hear America crying, and I can hear a renewed determination to make us better.

It is important to consider how we not only grieve together, but also how we work together to eliminate racism and brutality in all forms to make our Union more perfect. Here at ISU our President and Provost have spoken clearly about this, and here in CALS we will speak clearly, too, and with determination to make ourselves ever better.

CALS Assistant Dean of Diversity Theressa Cooper continues to provide education and leadership in this important area. She has put together several anti-racism resources for those interested in learning more about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and how to be effective allies. I also encourage you to add a few of these books on cultural competency to your summer reading list. If some of the words and language of this struggle are difficult for you – there are resources about that, too. Be empathetic. Be willing and open to listen and learn. Be attuned to those who are hurting. When anyone unjustly hurts anywhere, it diminishes us all, and undermines our shared success.

There are so many different paths to becoming an ally. Find yours.

You can be proud that CALS has been a pioneer in diversity and multicultural programs at Iowa State. Many faculty and staff work to improve cultural awareness through service on our college’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee and the departmental Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committees. Their efforts and that of our Office of Diversity and Inclusion Programs have made a great difference within our community but, there is still much work to be done.

We have a lower number of Black students in CALS than other colleges. Adjustment and retention are issues for this student population. And, many of our Black and Brown students have a very different student experience than their peers. And the same is true among our faculty and staff. It is time for us to lead with more strength and commitment. In the coming weeks and months, we will be elevating and strengthening our programs. There will be further focus on our cultural climate in CALS, on the need for proactive, positive leadership across the college, and the need to further infuse diversity and inclusion in every discipline and mission.

Your extraordinary team in CALS student services remains available for students seeking support:

  • Elizabeth Martinez Podolsky, director of multicultural student success, Howard Tyler, assistant dean of student services, Carmen Bain, associate dean of academic innovation, and Audrey Kennis, retention coordinator, and their team offer one-on-one support to students looking to find community on the ISU campus.
  • The MANRRS student chapter offers community and an introduction to Black scholars in CALS.  
  • All new multicultural freshmen are encouraged to join the FOCUS learning community to connect with peer mentors of color. Focus stands for Fostering Opportunity and Collaboration through Unity and Scholarship. 
  • The Leaders Enhancing Agriculture, Diversity, Inclusion and Trust, Collective (LEAD-IT) student organization helps facilitate discussions, provide peer diversity training, host diversity related programming, and represents the CALS Dean's Office at outreach events.

This issue will remain a priority long after national media reduce their coverage. While mentioned in an earlier message, this report from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is worth repeating. It offers recommendations for systemic change to support those from underrepresented groups pursuing faculty careers. The report offers calls to action for higher education leaders, faculty, researchers, and policy makers (see page 18). And, let’s draw upon our experts in college – including Theressa and Elizabeth – to help us find our way. Here are a few steps they’ve helped identify to becoming a better ally that are also referenced in this APLU report:

  • Widen your circle. Bring a spirit of curiosity and discovery to learning about and from students and colleagues in under-represented groups in order to improve your teaching, research, service, and colleagueship to those facing the most insurmountable barriers.
  • Push institutional leadership to support and reward investment in faculty learning about inclusive practices through sponsoring faculty training, course buy-outs, and recognition in tenure and promotion review. 
  • Keep the conversation going. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about implicit bias and microaggressions, and how they manifest in decisions about students and colleagues from under-represented groups. This includes acknowledging how conceptions of merit, skill, and ability have been shaped by historical legacies of access and power.
  • Be an ally to individuals from under-represented groups in institutional, departmental, and disciplinary spaces, especially when they are not present or in a position to speak for themselves. Continue to demonstrate and stand up with your Black colleagues and people of color.
  • Vote with conscience.  On campus this can look like nominating Black faculty and staff for campus awards, giving them recognition for ideas and collaboration.

Let’s continue this discussion – please reach out to me share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas.

Take care, be well, stay healthy, and care for your neighbors (near and far) – my best,

Dan