Diversity and Inclusion Requirement Announced at University of Iowa

The University of Iowa (UI) announced this week that all incoming students in the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will be required to fulfill a diversity and inclusion curriculum requirement, beginning in 2017.

University officials announced the requirement, of which the details are still being developed, on the heels of racist incidents on and around campus. The university condemned the incidents in an emailed statement to the campus community Tuesday and detailed efforts that are underway to foster “tolerance, sensitivity, and mutual respect.”

UI indicated that it is taking steps to address the growing concern over racism on college campuses nationwide. The statement noted that on UI’s campus specifically, “reprehensible comments on social media platforms have referred insultingly and disparagingly to members of our community,” referring to comments made on Yik Yak, a site that lets users post anonymously.

“While the university encourages and facilitates free speech and differences of opinion, the educational environment is damaged and lessened when free speech descends into verbal abuse, bullying, and racism,” UI administrators said in the email.

UI students began compiling these disparaging comments, many of which refer to international students, in a Facebook album in September to showcase the “overarching theme of xenophobia on campus and the fact that, in the past, the university has ignored the problem.”

Although UI administrators emphasized that there is no “quick fix” to addressing and overcoming this issue, they pointed to nearly a dozen efforts to make the campus more inclusive for all students, including the move toward the diversity requirement.

Students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the university’s largest college, are already required to complete at least three hours of coursework in “values, society, and diversity.” However, some of these class topics include “History of Jazz,” “King Arthur Through the Ages,” and “Food in America,” which many students have complained don’t teach inclusion or prompt deep conversations, according to UI Student Government President Elizabeth Mills.

University officials said they hope to eventually expand the diversity and inclusion requirement to other colleges at UI. Until then, administrators are developing a module on diversity and inclusion that will be incorporated into the online “Success at Iowa” course, which all incoming undergraduate students are required to take.

In addition, students are discussing launching a “thumb it down” campaign aimed at removing offensive posts from Yik Yak.