UPDATE: Ongoing DEI and Anti-Racism Work in the College of Engineering

Dear College of Engineering Faculty, Staff and Students,

A mentor and friend reminded me of the words of Robert Kennedy: “All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.”

There are defining moments in history, and I believe this is one. There is a public awakening to the police violence that is killing Black Americans. We are grappling with concepts of social justice, Black Lives Matter, and anti-racism. We are talking about how every facet, aspect, and corner of our society has a role in doing the needed work to name and dismantle systemic racism—including academia broadly and the University of Iowa College of Engineering specifically.

The college’s mission is to build an inclusive, diverse, and responsible community that is continually seeking creative solutions to elevate humanity. I am fully dedicated to providing leadership for this mission. I want to encourage and empower our college to live up to these ideals.

As we review our record and develop our plans to take action in the future, I am grateful that we are not starting from scratch. The work of the COE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council over the past two years under the leadership of co-chairs Michelle Scherer and Cathy Koebrick has laid important groundwork as detailed in their report. Many of the council’s programs and events have contributed to building our community. I was fortunate to attend their Celebrating Diversity in Engineering Graduate Student Conference in January 2020 and witness some of the fruits of their labor.

And yet, it is clear that we have work to do. It is clear that we need a new set of actions that match the sense of urgency of this moment.

We have refined the COE DEI Council’s charge and are currently searching for a faculty co-chair for 2020-22 (position description here). Please consider nominating yourself or others for this important role (nominate here). Many committee members from last year have committed to return, and we are looking for additional members to come from students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The application to become a member is here. Our organizational chart now shows this council as reporting to the dean, and the co-chairs will have a seat on the Engineering Administrative Council. I intend to engage regularly with the DEI Council leadership and help to energize the DEI action plan for 2020-2021.

The college leadership has committed to weekly meetings over the summer to continue our examination of the college’s DEI and anti-racism work, finalize the DEI action plan, and set expectations for this senior leadership team to meet our individual and collective obligations in pushing for change. This fall, you will also see targeted initiatives that come out of continued conversations and convenings as well as institutional best practices in higher education. You will see regular updates from my office, and I hope that I will hear from you regularly as well. Our college has established this name-optional web form for you to share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions on DEI. You also have an open line of communication with me at harriet-nembhard@uiowa.edu. I don’t promise to have all the answers or that we will always agree. But I do promise to listen with respect and with no hidden agendas.

I am committed to continuing the conversation as to how we can enhance our college’s diversity efforts. I recognize that we must work collaboratively to tackle what will be difficult conversations, and I look forward to your input, thoughts, and partnership.

Harriet B. Nembhard

Dean, College of Engineering
Roy J. Carver Professor of Engineering

Harriet Nembhard in front of sculpture in the Seamans Center