What does it mean to be black on a large campus? Historically underrepresented students can often feel lost in the mix at a large university, but Tabitha Wiggins, multicultural initiatives coordinator for the Division of Student Life, believes the Black Student Success Initiative will change the way black students perceive themselves and their strengths, and will impact their success as students.
"I'm collaborating with different campus offices to retain current black students with specific interventions geared towards black male students, who are most likely to leave Iowa" Wiggins said. "We've heard the stories from our students, and they've shared experiences of isolation and microaggression. We are making changes to make sure they don't have to endure those struggles. They need to understand Iowa is their home too and that they belong as a Hawkeye."
One new initiative is a day and a half Being Black at Iowa retreat. Approximately 20 black students gathered to discuss their identities, academic opportunities and struggles, and what it means to be black on campus and in America. First-year student Jamie Stubbs, a communications major working toward leadership studies and event planning certificates, said she chose to be a part of the retreat because she wanted to understand how to best bring her values and talents to Iowa, while acknowledging the challenges of being an underrepresented student.
Retreat participants worked with national expert Dr. Sherry Watt, associate professor of educational policy and leadership studies, in an identity development workshop, aimed at helping students move toward an understanding that there is not only one way of being black.
Students focused on recognizing personal strengths, discussed career preparation and utilizing campus resources, and worked on building relationships with one another. More than half the students participating left with a feeling of empowerment and ability to succeed on campus, according to a survey conducted after the retreat. "They really appreciated the opportunity to connect with other black students they would not have otherwise met on campus," said Wiggins. "Building those relationships is really important."
Wiggins would like to see even greater student and staff participation at future retreats, so students are able to form broader networks during the retreat.
"I began to develop and interact with staff on a personal level that positively affected my experience at the University of Iowa," she said. "I gained a passion to develop more inclusive communities, not only for African American students, but any student that may feel the insecurities with not feeling accepted in society. I am excited to implement this goal within my RA position in the First Generation Living Learning Community next year."
For questions, contact Tabitha Wiggins, Assistant Director for Equity & Inclusion for the Division of Student Life.