Central College has partnered with Drake University, Grand View University, Simpson College and William Penn University to form the BIPOC Coalition.
The coalition seeks to foster a sense of community, cultivate leadership and provide mutual support for Black, Indigenous and people of color. The coalition is a safe space for BIPOC students to discuss and reflect on their college journeys.
In 2018, Central examined its campus environment and analyzed how the college could strengthen its efforts in areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. An outcome of this work was the development of the “Building a Culture of Inclusion” initiative in an effort to create long-lasting change.
“Central College is located in a community [Pella, Iowa] where there aren’t many people of color, and we are a campus where there are few students, faculty and staff of color,” says Kristi Leonard, a 1997 Central graduate and assistant dean of students. “As a white ally, I want to support our BIPOC students, help them feel welcome and provide opportunities to collaborate and connect with others at similar institutions across the state.”
The coalition held its first meeting alongside the Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines on Sept. 25. Activities were facilitated by BIPOC students from these respective institutions, including Central student Deja Holloway, Class of 2024. Holloway led an activity that encouraged first-year students to reflect on their journeys throughout college and what they envision their journeys to be, based on their individual experiences.
“I am passionate about inclusivity, diversity and social justice work, so I wanted to make sure that as a Black student, my voice was being heard,” Holloway says. “I want to help other minority students use their voices, to feel welcome and respected. I want them to know their opinions and experiences are valued here and not just being brushed off.”
Holloway hopes the coalition will be a safe space for BIPOC students to gather and educate others.
“We want to encourage students to learn about our upbringing and what it’s like to be a BIPOC student in Iowa. It’s important to learn about others who are different than you,” Holloway says. “I know it’s hard to talk about tough subjects, but we are not looking for sympathy. We want empathy.”
“The BIPOC Coalition is a natural component of Central’s Building a Culture of Inclusion initiative. Our work is to make sure every student feels their presence and perspectives are valued,” says Carol Williamson, Central’s vice president for student development. “The coalition supports our BIPOC students and provides an opportunity for lasting change within our organizations.”