Monique DiCarlo, Women's Resource and Action Center and the School of Social Work
Monique DiCarlo could have easily become a corporate career climber, pursuing an entrepreneurial position in one of her family’s businesses on Chicago’s South Side.
Instead, for the past 14 years, DiCarlo has been at the helm of the Women’s Resource and Action Center at The University of Iowa, inspiring and empowering women and men to make a difference, whether on campus or in the community.
She has long funneled her energy into countless nonprofit organizations, political races, and other community endeavors, including being a foster parent and cofounding the Iowa Women’s Foundation. DiCarlo has served on the boards of YWCA in the Quad Cities and Iowa Shares, and is a former chair and member of the Johnson County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
DiCarlo also holds an adjunct teaching appointment in the UI School of Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, teaching a graduate course, Organization In Community Practice. DiCarlo describes it as “the macro aspect of social work.”
fyi recently caught up with DiCarlo to see how she juggles her roles as WRAC director, community leader, political activist, and mom—a role she says she is “very grateful to have at this point in her life.” DiCarlo also discusses her new role as interim sexual assault response coordinator, a position she took Sept. 26.
Why did you come to The University of Iowa?
The position at WRAC complemented my experience in women’s services and my focus on nonprofit administration in graduate school. I am a first-generation college student, actually the first in my father’s family to graduate from high school. My college experience was life changing. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of others’ life-changing journeys.
President Sally Mason recently appointed you as the new sexual assault response coordinator. Share with us a little bit more about what you’re doing in this role and how it is making our campus and community safer.
In this position, I’m working on policy revision, responding to students and others who have experienced an assault to ensure they are aware of their options, facilitating response team meetings to encourage communication between responding offices, researching other school’s response models, and ensuring the day-to-day work at the center continues to run smoothly. I am grateful for the very talented and dedicated WRAC staff members who continue to support my work as the sexual assault response coordinator.
How did you get interested in women’s issues and social justice, and who were your mentors?
My interest in women’s services and women’s issues was fostered through both my social work course work and my practicum experience. My undergraduate social work practicum was in a domestic violence program. The practicum is where my women’s studies, social work, political science, and economics course work all came together—I was acting on what I had learned in the classroom. I eventually became the director of that program; the experience formed me professionally. My maternal grandmother was also a big influence by demonstrating a commitment to community service.
How did your parents’ influence your career?
My father didn’t attend high school and my mother went to beauty school, and my parents and grandparents owned their own businesses. Being your own boss was emphasized. I have my father to thank for my career path—he wouldn’t support me to go to school unless I knew what I wanted to major in, what I would be, and how much I would earn. My high school guidance counselor helped me take a skills inventory that related to career categories, and it showed that I was going to be a fund-raiser for Easter Seals. This allowed me to follow my passion for philanthropy, particularly relating philanthropy to social change.
What is the best thing about your job?
Being a part of students’ journeys is such a gift. So many of our services, projects, and resources are about helping people discover and build on their strengths. Often, they’re questioning everything from what do they believe to what kind of career or major do they want to have. I enjoy working with students, supporting their steps to make changes in their own lives and the life of our communities. It’s exciting to engage them in bridging scholarship and research with practice.
What would your colleagues be surprised to know about you?
I love to decorate for holidays—the cheesier, the better! I love using my grandmother’s old decorations. I’m also a GelGem junkie.
What are some of your hobbies, passions, and outside interests?
I live with my partner of 18 years, Faith Wilmot, and our 3-year-old daughter, Mira, in a “fixer-up house” in Solon, along with two very old cats. I just appreciate every moment with my daughter, so whether it’s preparing meals or going for walks or playing outside or watching Dora the Explorer, I have a new appreciation for living in the moment. Prior to my daughter becoming a part of our lives, I loved to do scrapbooking and rubberstamping, making cards. It was kind of my therapy and very relaxing. I also enjoy gardening and world travel. I was most recently in Costa Rica.
Are there some new initiatives or programs at WRAC of which you’re especially proud?
A Department of Justice grant has brought about our Men’s Anti-Violence Council (MAC). Watching the work that men are doing as part of the council is a source of renewal, particularly as it relates to preventing gender violence: stalking, dating violence, and sexual assault. Having men talk about these issues with other men is critical. Men have been involved with WRAC in various ways for years, but we now have, for the first time ever, a male intern providing counseling services as well as a man on our staff serving as the coordinator for MAC. Another endeavor, Iowa NEW Leadership, is a summer residential program designed to encourage undergraduate women to pursue public leadership positions. The young women who participated last summer were amazing.
What do you see as opportunities and challenges for WRAC?
I would hope that we stay steadfast in our commitment to both individual change and to systemic change, and that we continue to serve as a bridge between scholars, activists, and students. We must continue to provide resources and services that help people make individual change in their lives, but also systemic change.
Do you have a favorite memory from the past 14 years at the University?
My favorite moments are when I hear back from somebody who was involved in the center. I enjoy hearing how what they experienced through our work relates to what they’re doing in their lives and why they’re doing it.
by Lois J. Gray