Georgina Dodge became The University of Iowa's chief diversity officer and associate vice president on July 1. She leads and coordinates the University's efforts in all aspects of diversity, and recently spoke with Parent Times to share the plans she has for her new position, the difference between diversity and inclusion, and her advice to undergraduate students.
How do you define diversity?
Diversity is not, of course, just ethnic or racial. It's diversity in how we think, and that's the kind of diversity that really excites me. I think it brings something to me. That sounds very selfish, but it's very true. I think that's the way we all need to start looking at diversity. It brings something to you, and a lot of it's free. Why pass up an opportunity to benefit yourself when it's being offered with no strings attached?
A term that I appreciate more than diversity is inclusion, because that allows everyone to have a seat at the table. We all need to work to ensure that there's difference around the table so that we, individually and as groups, can benefit from the variety of perspectives and experiences available.
How do you feel that diversity benefits the undergraduate experience?
The world that our students live in now is so incredibly different from that of my generation, and I'm not that old. Even if you're in a place that you consider to be a small town, you are going to encounter all kinds of different perspectives. Being able to take all of this in and use it for your own growth is something invaluable that every undergraduate needs to take away from his or her experience at The University of Iowa. The perspectives that are available here encompass everything I can think of, whether they be international perspectives, different racial and ethnic perspectives, gender perspectives, sexual orientation perspectives, age perspectives, class perspectives. The list is pretty endless. Our students have this rich opportunity to be able to learn how to synthesize all of these perspectives and how to develop knowledge from what they are taking in. Our job is to help them determine what to do with it.
How do you plan to increase diversity at the University?
Well, we will continue to work closely with the Office of Admissions, which does an amazing job. I'm very impressed with the work that they do. One of the main things that my office will be focusing on is retention. Once the Office of Admissions does its good work and brings students in the door, what can we do to keep them here? It's important to keep in mind that the things that keep underrepresented students here also keep all students here. So, I feel as though what we're doing is developing programming, initiatives, and other things that help the entire University with its overall retention.
If you could give an undergraduate student any piece of advice, what would it be?
Get to know your professors. When you leave this institution, whether you're going on to a graduate or professional school program or applying for a job, you're going to need some letters of reference. Those jobs or graduate schools want three to five letters. Get to know at least one professor, and preferably two, for every year that you're here. That means more than just sitting in class and smiling and hoping the professor notices you, because particularly in a larger class, you're just going to blend in. Go to office hours armed with questions and be prepared to have a conversation. You need to make yourself memorable.