A dialogue with Iowa State’s College of Design dean, Luis Rico-Gutierrez

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Iowa State’s College of Design dean, Luis Rico-Gutierrez, has strong opinions on the
importance of diverse communities. Rico-Gutierrez was born and raised in Mexico. He’s
lived in Europe, on the East Coast, and now in the Midwest. Living among people in so
many different cultures, he says, “makes you appreciate how everybody has a different
perspective on things – and all of those perspectives, on different levels, are very useful.”
Involved not just in his own college but campus-wide in creating inclusive environments
for students and faculty, Rico-Gutierrez has helped facilitate a number of campus initiatives.

“I feel very invested in this because I’ve seen the benefits,” he says. “I mean, I’m
an immigrant myself.”

What follows is an edited discussion with Rico-Gutierrez on the subjects of inclusion, equity, and embracing our differences.

Interview by Carole Gieseke

Q: This is such a complex subject. Let’s start by talking about why diversity and inclusion are important.
A: In design, creativity and innovation are the cornerstones of everything that we do. And the one thing we know about creativity and innovation is that having different perspectives is what makes the process possible. So, yes, we should care about diversity and inclusion from a social perspective; we need to care about it from many different [points of view], but for me the most important one is that if we want to be truly creative and truly innovative it takes all the different perspectives.

So why do you think the discussion of diversity makes people uncomfortable?
There are a couple of reasons. One, you can look at diversity and inclusion as just a numbers game. That’s a self-defeating exercise in a way. Yes, the numbers are a foundation; they allow us as a group to have the right ingredients to make everything happen. But if we just stop there, what happens to quality? What about bringing the right people to the job? [Diversity is more than] just meeting a quota. The numbers are like gathering the ingredients for a recipe, but the magic happens when you put them together.

There is a second step. The first one is building diversity. Th e second is to implement diversity. That’s when people begin to realize why we’re putting the numbers together in the first place. When we implement diversity, we’re really harnessing the power of having all those different points of view and perspectives that allow us to come to a more effective, different, innovative solution.

There are a lot of issues related to social justice that need to be part of the conversation, but ultimately it is about everybody being able to participate and contribute to a common goal that we have as an organization.

What’s the difference between diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Equity and inclusion are two components of the same thing. They’re two ingredients to creativity and innovation and plain and simple collaboration. But equity is not enough. Inclusion is necessary to make sure everybody is able to participate in collaborative work at the same level.

As an organization, we should be able to differentiate and support people where they need additional support. I particularly don’t like the word “diversity” because it refers to all the different groups. What I don’t like about the term is it emphasizes the diff erences, where “inclusion” is something that brings them together. It’s more dynamic. It’s coming together.

How healthy is the culture at ISU?
It’s interesting how many times we [at Iowa State] attribute the [diversity] challenges we have to the part of the country where we live. And there’s something to that. But I used to live in Pittsburgh and the same discussions we had there about why it was so hard to create an inclusive environment were almost verbatim the conversations that we have here. [So] just to say that it’s because we’re in Iowa, that’s not going to fly.

The second thing I would say is that actually if you go outside to the streets of Iowa in all the little towns, we are a pretty diverse place if you know where to look. People coming from other countries is probably the only way that some communities will be viable in the future. People in this state have embraced the “new Iowans” as not just workers but as potential future entrepreneurs. Th ey are the next ones opening stores on Main Street Anytown Iowa. Those things are very encouraging. [I believe that] this university is a welcoming place. Upper administration is very receptive to these issues. We all understand that this is important; but sometimes we (yes, I include myself) take it for granted. We should not take for granted the issues, the problems, the effort that it takes to build an inclusive environment.

Sometimes we feel that because we talk about it that that’s all we have to do. What needs to be improved?
Every time there is a search, we’re looking for the best candidate to fill the position, but at the same time it requires that we look everywhere for the best candidate. We need to look in unusual, non-traditional places for these candidates. [We need] to make sure that we recognize and emphasize that our diff erences are what make us stronger as a group and ask people to be mindful of that.

I’ll be hard pressed to think of anybody here that has a negative attitude about issues of diversity, but … diversity is a question each generation in every culture has had to confront. Even if we all have the best intentions in talking about these issues or demonstrating how we feel about them, different communication styles can result in communication breakdowns. We need to make extra effort in working together to understand each other.

Do you think we need to change our policies?
I think the burden is on us as administrators to think about this as an important subject all the time. The levels of excellence that we aspire to can only be reached if we work together in this. And, to be completely honest, if we all think the same way, if in the team everybody contributes the same way and has the same perspective, we’re not going to go very far. So the wider the net we cast to bring new perspectives, the better we’re going to be.

We need to constantly talk about these issues, and there has been a lot of discussion about issues of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression should have a purpose; just shouting whatever comes to our mind in the middle of the desert is not very useful. We should shout and engage in discussions with each other, as intense as they have to be but with the purpose of achieving that level of excellence. Also, freedom of expression shouldn’t be used as a way of hushing people. (“OK, OK, that’s fine, that’s your opinion,  ut let me just keep saying what I was saying and let me ignore you.”)

Under your leadership, the College of Design has become a truly inclusive community. Could you give us some specifics?
My first priority is to create an amazing academic experience for our students and nurture the careers of our faculty, and a diverse environment goes a long way in achieving that. We have mentorship programs at the student level to help students of any background, but we make an emphasis on diverse populations to be successful in their careers.

In going to different places with our Hometown Design Program, we always take into consideration the diverse composition of each community. It is the first task of the students and of the faculty to make sure everybody has a voice in the process. Afterwards our students will become ambassadors of this practice wherever they go. It’s going to be under their skin – they will understand how diverse contributions make the process better and hopefully in their future businesses and organizations they will embrace this form of collaboration that we need to see all over the world.

Speaking about the world, one of the things we are trying to emphasize is in our international programs. For example, we have the Rome program, and going over there opens the eyes of our students to diversity in a pretty in-your-face kind of way. They meet people who think very differently and approach life very differently.

This is what we hope students can experience abroad and in the classroom. Diversity and cross-cultural engagement broadens their perspectives and deepens their understanding as designers and, overall, human beings.

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Five Things

Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:

logo_black1) Last week Team PrISUm unveiled its 2016 solar car, and with improved systems it hopes to repeat as Formula Sun Grand Prix champions. But what had the campus buzzing during the unveiling wasn’t as much about this year’s car, but about next year’s — the team is planning to create a four-person, street legal solar car that will cost twice as much to manufacture and will travel to Australia to compete in 2017.

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Photo by Sarina Rhinehart/Ames Tribune

2) An Iowa State senior who was previously honored as the ISU Student Employee of the Year has been named the “National Student Employee of the Year,” beating out 3,000 other nominations and becoming the first Iowan ever to receive the award. Wonderlich, a senior in child, adult, and family services from Ollie, Iowa, has served as the global citizenship intern with the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program as part of Iowa State’s Extension and Outreach since September 2014.

3) Last week, local and national media reports revealed the details of a lawsuit filed April 15 by former Iowa State women’s basketball player Nikki Moody against head coach Bill Fennelly, the university, and the state for racial discrimination. ISU released a statement April 18, saying it “takes issue with the allegations and looks forward to responding in full to the lawsuit as the legal process proceeds.” Expect to hear much more about the case throughout the summer.

picnics4) Planning a spring party, picnic, Mother’s Day, birthday, or graduation celebration? If you need help with anything from menu planning to food safety, don’t forget about ISU Extension Answer Line.

Really! They want to help you!

5) As April winds to a close this week, don’t forget about Cy’s Days of Service! Complete a project and/or log your hours on our website. We can’t wait to see the numbers, stories, and photos behind how Iowa Staters are making a difference in their communities this year.

Five Things

Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:

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Tyler Kingkade  (Photo by Damon Dahlen, Huffington Post)

1) Last week, we unveiled our 2016 class of Iowa STATEment Makers, and — as always — the impressive group of young alumni blew us away. This year’s group includes activists who work on behalf of Native Americans, LGBT high school students, STEM education, Sri Lankan women, and women in architecture; journalists who have found careers at the Huffington Post and with the Green Bay Packers; agricultural entrepreneurs, educators, and advocates; a U.S. Court of Appeals clerk; a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing; and even the youngest appointed female CEO in the United States. Read their awesome stories and learn more about them online at www.isualum.org/statementmakers2016.

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2) In honor of the 125th anniversary of Iowa State’s power plant, the university’s utility services department will host an open house this Thursday, April 21 (1-4 p.m.) at the power plant (616 Beach Rd.). The event includes a 2 p.m. presentation, tours and refreshments.

3) Students in ISU’s American Sign Language program recently traveled to the Iowa School for the Deaf for an immersive experience. It was two days of silence that pushed the hearing students out of their comfort zones and gave them a real taste for what life is like in the Deaf community. Read more and watch a video about this program online.

4) Everyone’s talking about the weather lately. In short: It’s perfection. The latest ISU News Service “Postcard from Campus” video delivers you virtually to campus on a perfect spring day.

5) Today is National Golf Day, and both the Iowa State men’s and women’s golf teams are having strong seasons. Why not celebrate your love of the game — and of ISU — on Golf Day with a purchase from the Veenker Memorial Pro Shop or the Alumni Collection golf department.

Five Things

Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:

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1)  Congratulations to Georges Niang, who on Friday night was named the 2016 Karl Malone Award winner for the nation’s top power forward. “You grow up watching guys like Karl Malone and to take home an award that states my game emulates the way he played is pretty cool,” Niang said. “I’m thankful for my coaches and teammates for making this all possible by pushing me and believing in me every day.”

moniz2) Friday was a big news day at ISU, as it was also announced that U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz would deliver the university’s commencement address May 7 and that Cyclone point guard Monte Morris would be returning for his senior season with the Cyclones following months of speculation that he would declare for the 2016 NBA Draft.

3) What’s going on on campus this week, anyway? Among the speakers who will be visiting campus this week are transgender rights activist Angelica Ross, who will deliver the lecture “We Are Worthy: Empowering Transgender Lives” tonight in the MU Sun Room and syndicated Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who will deliver the 2015-2016 Manatt-Phelps lecture “Our Divided Political Heart: Campaign 2016” Wednesday rossnight in the Great Hall. On Saturday, be sure to catch the dionneCyclone Gridiron Club Spring Football Game at 1 p.m. at Jack Trice Stadium. Come early to enjoy a variety of pregame events and activities, including a Jr. Cyclone Club clinic, equipment sale, Cyclone Market, and Cyclone Gridiron Club tailgate.

4) This Friday in the Memorial Union Great Hall, the ISU Alumni Association and ISU Foundation will present some of their highest awards to alumni and friends at the 2016 Distinguished Awards Celebration. Among the ISUAA honorees are distinguished alumni Dr. Hank Harris, one of the world’s foremost authorities on infectious disease of swine; U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Charles Lettow; Pragmatics, Inc., founder, chairman, and CEO Long Vo Nguyen; as well as honorary alumni Jan Jessen and Ruth Harpole. The ceremony is open to the public, and it will also be streamed online at www.isualum.org/watchliveawards.

5) In just a few short days on campus last week as a special guest at Matt Campbell’s first Iowa State Football Coaches’ Clinic, former head football coach Dan McCarney reminded everyone in Cyclone Nation why he’s one of a kind, beloved, and soon to be a member of the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame. This 33-second video of him addressing the current Cyclone team was posted on Twitter Friday morning and elicited some great responses:

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He’s truly one of the all-time greats, and it’s great to know he still has a heartfelt passion for our university, too.

Five Things

Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:

Spring 2016.jpg1) We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback on our spring 2016 VISIONS magazine cover story on diversity at Iowa State — so much so, in fact, that we’ve decided to make the full issue available now in our online archive, instead of waiting a year like we normally do to post back issues. If you’d like to flip through this issue, inspired by ISU President Steven Leath’s vision for a more diverse and inclusive campus, you can check it out on our issuu archive page now.

2) The university’s draft strategic plan is now ready for review and public comment, and President Leath is asking alumni to submit their feedback. Read the draft plan online and submit your comments by May 10 using the online form.

3) It seems like everyone last week was talking about this story, a tale of Spring Break heroism by a group of Cyclone football players: Jack Spreen, Josh Jahlas, Spencer Benton, and Anthony Lazard — as well as former players Matt Swoyer and Joe Doran. Jahlas saw 22-year-old Luisa Maria Castro drive her car into the Laguna Madre Bay during a Spring Break trip to South Padre Island, Texas, and he and his buddies sprinted into the water to save her.

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It took significant time and effort, but the players were able to create a hole in the windshield of the vehicle and break Castro out before she drowned. “They really are heroes, and I am forever grateful for what they did,” Castro said. “I have no words to express how appreciative I am of them.”

4) You may have read on the university website, in Interior Design magazine, or in ISU News Flash about the innovative work ISU interior design professor and chair Lee Cagley is doing with his students on designing the combat outpost of the future — and now readers across the country are learning about the research thanks to an article in Sunday’s Washington Post.

“I’ve been working on this for several years, since watching a TV feature on PTSD,” Cagley said. “Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan spoke eloquently about the fact that they were never able to relax; the outpost tents never felt really safe. They couldn’t talk about their fears or feelings and felt that their needs were not valued.”

It’s just another example of the many ways design influences all aspects of our culture, and another reason we’re so proud to have a strong, interdisciplinary College of Design at ISU.

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5) It’s National “Walk Around Things Day” (not that there are too many holidays and observances in the country or anything), but we’d be remiss in not suggesting that it’s a good day to snap a selfie near the MU Zodiac. Hashtag #WalkAroundThingsDay. Walk around, indeed.