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Iowa State promises major new diversity initiatives, including ‘cultural humility training’

School virtually silent on what new training will look like

Following a series of racist incidents on its campus, including vandalism and offensive photographs, Iowa State University’s administration has promised major new diversity initiatives for the school, including “cultural humility” training and workshops for every faculty member on how to create “inclusive classroom environment[s].”

In October the campus group Students Against Racism issued a list of demands to the university administration, including declaring a “zero tolerance policy towards racism and antisemitism,” the expulsion of the students who recently drew swastikas on campus, and the firing of an advisor who “wore blackface,” a reference to a student staffer’s having painted his face “a variety of colors” for a campus play nine years ago.

Students were also protesting a series of hateful chalkings that were discovered on campus, including slogans such as “Heil Hitler” and anti-semitic epithets.

In response to the student demands, last month the school’s administration released a statement outlining the significant diversity initiatives the school will be implementing. Those include “cultural competency and cultural humility training before the start of spring semester 2020″ for the school’s president, senior vice presidents, deans and other high-ranking administrators.

As well, next semester, the school’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching will “conduct annual training for faculty in each academic department on the importance of, and approaches to, creating an inclusive classroom environment.” The school’s hiring and tenure processes will also be subject to “diversity, equity and inclusion training.”

Further, starting next semester, “everyone who lives in a residence hall will be required to take annual online diversity, equity, and inclusion training,” according to the university.

School officials were almost uniformly silent on the content of the proposed trainings. The College Fix had sought to learn what materials would be taught to faculty and staff, who according to the university’s plan will be undergoing training sometime over the next month, if they have not already.

Repeated queries to the president’s office, the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and the Student Affairs Office went unreturned. Campus spokeswoman Angie Hunt eventually responded to The Fix’s queries.

“The university is still exploring options for the training announced…by President Wendy Wintersteen and campus leaders. We are evaluating existing programs on campus as well as training offered by other organizations. The Iowa State University Police Department is working with RITE Academy to provide a classroom session for department leaders in December and all officers in the spring,” Hunt said via email.

The campus police department did not respond to queries seeking information on what kind of material their officers would be studying in December or next semester.

On the university website, the administration said that officers would be undergoing “racial intelligence training.” According to the website of the Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement [RITE] Academy, on Dec. 12 leaders of the police force will attend a “racial intelligence” workshop put on by that organization.

“RITE helps to reinforce the company culture of treating everyone fairly, in a professional manner. Learning to value others, is key to building a professional workplace culture, that will be passed on for years to come,” the group says on its website. It defines “racial intelligence” as “the practice of using Emotional Intelligence (EI), Social Intelligence (SI) and the RITE Tools to treat ourselves and others fairly.”

Not all demands met

The university did not concede to every one of the activists’ demands. Students Against Racism requested that the school “shut down Students for Trump club that attached the neo-Nazi slogans to their political writings as continued harassment and interference in the academic life of hundreds of students.”

The school responded by saying: “There is no recognized student organization with the name: Students for Trump; however, the university does allow students to form organizations based on common political ideologies without regard to the candidates or policies they support, provided they follow the Student Organization Recognition policy.”

“We cannot punish individuals for having bigoted or hateful thoughts or even expressing bigoted thoughts or hate speech,” the university added.

In response to numerous demands to punish protected speech on campus, the university wrote several times: “As a part of State Government, Iowa State University is obligated to uphold the First Amendment, and therefore, cannot impose restrictions or punish individuals based upon the content of a person’s speech or because we do not agree with their ideology or beliefs. Even when we personally disagree with them with all of our hearts.”

MORE: Does ‘diversity training’ work? Nobody can say

MORE: George Washington U. adds mandatory online diversity training for new students

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Ben Walls -- Virginia Tech