Candidate makes case for new university position

Adam Sodders

As one of the four finalists in the running for the vice president for diversity and inclusion position at Iowa State, William Lewis discussed his strategy and inclusion-based philosophy at a public forum in Pioneer Hall of the Memorial Union on Friday. 

A search committee was put together by President Steven Leath to fill the position, which was created in fall 2014. Lewis was chosen by the committee as one of the finalists.

“We worked with a search firm and held individual meetings and presentations in Des Moines with various candidates,” said Emma Molls, search committee member and librarian at Parks Library.

Molls said after the committee sorted out the qualifications needed for the position, it took time to research and interview the pool of candidates.

“We [the committee] decided unanimously which candidates would be our final four,” Molls said.

The decision was preceded by an intra-committee discussion about who were the best candidates.

Lewis, who previously held the position of vice president for diversity and inclusion at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, made note of his experience in the area of diversity at the forum.

“I bring a love and a passion for this work,” Lewis said. “[Diversity and inclusion] is what I’ve dedicated myself to.”

Lewis specifically focused on his plan for the first 90 days of his tenure. He listed conducting a listening tour, convening action meetings, collaborating for sustainability and communicating for transparency as some of his goals.

All four points involved communicating with students, faculty and staff about being more inclusive in language and action. Problem-solving skills and being a deep, critical thinker were traits Lewis said he possesses.

“A thoughtful leader is someone who thinks deeply about issues,” he said. “People seek you out, and I want to be that person that people go to.”

Lewis talked about connecting different departments on campus and improving communication between departments, schools and students from different backgrounds. He said better connections between groups is how Iowa State will continue to become more inclusive.

“I am going to advocate on behalf of all students from different groups,” Lewis said. He added that, as a black man, he may be perceived as mainly concentrating on black issues. This, Lewis said, was not congruent with his inclusive philosophy.

“Diversity is the intersectionality of a person,” he said. “There is diversity in everybody.”

Searching for relatively unknown or obscure groups to represent at Iowa State was another goal for Lewis.

“I want to give a voice to the voiceless,” Lewis said. “There are populations [diversity staff] don’t know about, and we want to find out who they are.”

The forum was attended by many staff members and graduate students, who identified their positions within the college before asking questions.

Ashely Maitland, graduate student in student affairs and higher education, said she believes the new position is an important addition to the college.

“I think it’s important to see where Iowa State goes in terms of diversity and inclusion,” she said. “I’m interested and engaged in [diversity] issues, both in and outside the college.”

Leath is expected to appoint the new vice president for diversity and inclusion sometime this winter, according to the Iowa State Office of the President website.

Lewis is the second of the final four candidates to attend a public forum on campus. Reginald Stewart, from the University of Nebraska, was on campus Sept. 7 and 8.  

The remaining candidates include Diane Ariza of Quinnipiac University and Jesus Trevino of the University of South Dakota. They will attend forums Sept. 21-22 and Sept. 24-25, respectively.