Thomas brings diversity to university

Stephanie Veldman

Editor’s note: In honor of Black History Month, the Daily is running a five-part series on influential and prominent African-Americans in the ISU community. Today’s story profiles Pam Thomas, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center coordinator.

Pam Thomas said she knows an African-American motivational speaker who is lecturing every day this month. However, during the rest of the year, he’s not too busy with speaking engagements.

She said this friend calls the month of February “Come-Be-Black-For-Me Month.”

“I wish we would think outside of the box and incorporate things we do and say in February in the rest of the year,” said Thomas, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center coordinator. “But opposite of that is nothing, and I would rather have this to bring recognition and awareness, even though there is a level of frustration involved.”

Combating that frustration and being a successful activist is what much of Thomas’ career has been focused on.

Thomas graduated from Central College in Pella with a degree in history and sociology and a second degree in teaching. She chose to center her career around social-justice issues and equity. After she was divorced, Thomas began her career working in a family violence center in West Des Moines. She volunteered and worked in other nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA.

Thomas went to Drake University for her master’s degree in public policy and organizational theory on a fellowship and a paid internship because she was considered a displaced homemaker since she was divorced and had children.

At this time, Thomas worked with nonprofit groups such as Urban Dreams and the One’s Self-Actualizing and Communication Skills (OSACS) Women’s Center in Des Moines.

“I was able to implement programs [at OSACS Women’s Center] and have an impact on public policy,” Thomas said. “I narrowed my focus to women and children surviving poverty.”

Thomas began working at Iowa State about three years ago. She said she fell into higher education after running into an old college professor at a wedding who offered her a job at Central College teaching African-American history.

Next, Thomas took a job at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. “I always tell my students to take a risk and step outside of their comfort zone. Central was too comfortable, and I needed a change,” she said.

After about three years working in Ohio, Thomas came back to Iowa to take care of her father after her mother died.

She emphasized the importance of family in her life and in her career.

“I really do pay homage to the women in my life who have brought me this far. In everything I do, I acknowledge my mother, grandmother and aunt because if they hadn’t made the sacrifices, I wouldn’t be here,” Thomas said.

When she took the job at Iowa State, Thomas found it challenging because she was working in two departments, with the Provost’s Office and in Student Affairs.

“Working at Iowa State has definitely been an eye-opener for me because it is more of a decentralized system, and it is harder to coordinate efforts,” she said.

Thomas said with the Provost’s Office, she tries to create awareness about the topics of violence, drugs and alcohol and the impact they have on female students, as well as the whole community.

One issue Thomas and other women are fighting is the lack of a maternity-leave policy.

“The goal is to have a policy that has a measure of equity and fairness,” Thomas said. “I don’t want [just] to create a maternity-leave policy; I want a paternity-leave policy, so fathers are included as well.”

The Women’s Center helps co-sponsor many programs and events on the ISU campus. Thomas said it gives her a chance to work with other groups on campus and build alliances with them.

One of the events Thomas has also helped coordinate, the Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity (ISCORE), will be held at Iowa State March 3 at the Memorial Union.

“Iowa State’s campus isn’t devoid of racism, sexism and homophobia,” Thomas said. “Through this conference, we need to identify the problems and work on them as a campus community.”