When we think of the people that populate a college campus, faculty members are often the first people that come to mind. This is especially true at research intensive universities like Iowa. But when it comes to expanding our knowledge base about all the humanities can teach us, we ignore too many people. For the moment, I want to focus on one group: staff members at the University of Iowa.
Over these last six weeks as Hancher’s public engagement intern, I have had the pleasure of meeting with staff members on campus that make the academic life of a scholar better in so many ways. For example, in meeting with an academic advisor, I learned that their passion for encouraging and uplifting students at Iowa is just as equal to, or greater than, faculty. Why does this matter? Because inspiring students to find their creative and academic spaces is part of the goal of the humanities. And that goal cannot be reached without the help and support of advisors that cherish the opportunity to lead students down their chosen career paths.
In sitting down with this advisor, I was encouraged by her ability to express in clear terms the benefits of humanities research and education. It is a necessary skill that I think more faculty members should cultivate. This person was able to articulate these ideas in such a conversational and approachable manner. I left that meeting thinking that partnerships or greater collaboration with academic advisors is one method to enhance student engagement, which is one of my goals for Hancher this summer.
Academic advisors seek to distill the passion of students into guidance for coursework and scholarly pursuits. And much of this guidance takes into consideration the experiential or practical benefits of a liberal arts education, which as I have discovered in my research this summer, is one route to prevent student disengagement.
After speaking with an advisor, I knew the next person I needed to speak to was someone specializing in diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus. The goals Hancher’s public engagement team cherish are centrally linked to making Hancher a welcoming place to those underserved and marginalized individuals on this campus. It is important not only to make this known to everyone, but especially to those who struggle in a world that does not respect their humanity or agency.
I could tell from sitting down with this person that they lived and breathed this work – that not only was it their career, but it was a calling to a higher power, in the most honest and sincere way. How can students engage with Hancher or other wonderful UI organizations and institutions without first attending to the ways they feel welcomed or cast aside? She spoke about the ways in which celebrating first generation students on this campus was a gateway toward learning and growing as a community. I felt proud in that moment. Not proud of myself for the work I was doing. Proud that I live and worked in college community that tried its best to reach across boundaries.
University of Iowa faculty members are certainly helpful, but I felt compelled from these experiences to spotlight the men, women, and individuals behind the scenes, making it possible for humanities education to exist today at the University of Iowa.