New vice president excited over U’s diversity progress

Nancy Ngo

When she took the position in March as the University’s new associate vice president for Minority Affairs and Diversity, Nancy Barcelo wondered if she had made the right decision.
She had been working for 27 years at the University of Iowa, and thought she would never leave. But after three months at the University, Barcelo says she did the right thing.
“I am very impressed with the things that are taking place on this campus in the area of diversity,” she said.
The duties of the associate vice president for Minority Affairs and Diversity include working on policies and coordinating efforts throughout campus effecting diversity initiatives.
Her responsibilites are most similar to her work as Assistant Provost at the University of Iowa, Barcelo said. She has also taught in the areas of multicultural affairs, sexuality and women. She says her experiences at Iowa allowed her to see connections within the different areas.
It was Barcelo’s record of working with students that made her qualified for the position, said Matt Musel, former president of the Minnesota Student Association. Musel served on an interviewing committee in December and recommended Barcelo for the position to the senior vice president who made the final hiring decision.
“I was looking for a person who understood diversity was about student life. Her concept of vice presidency is based on serving students- not just in the classroom, not just students of color, but all students at the university.”
Barcelo officially started on March 1, after Josie Johnson stepped down from the position at the end of February. In Johnson’s final presentation to the Board of Regents’ Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee, she said the University needed to create a more inviting community by changing culturally.
Johnson’s comment showed the University is not receptive to many members of its community, said Jim Infante, senior vice president for Academic Affairs. The University needs to be more inviting, particularly to minorities.
Barcelo was hired because of her experience at the University of Iowa. “I saw in her an enormous commitment to students,” Infante said.
Students are the foundation of her work, Barcelo said. Since she has been at the University, she has been having focus groups with students to better understand what their needs and concerns are. She also asks students what they would change about the University.
The University can set an example of bringing many groups together, said Barcelo, though she warns that maintaining and respecting individual and group differences is challenging. Because identities are important, they need to be preserved and enhanced. “At the same time though, there are common issues that we can work together on and collectively,” Barcelo said.
When individuals question what the responsibility of colleges are and whether or not diversity efforts should take place, the challenge is to inform people of what the University is doing and why. This challenge attracted her to the University position.
Barcelo brings new approaches to diversity issues to the University. Asked about her thoughts on why she was qualified for the job Barcelo said, “I want to believe that I bring in a different perspective in how to address these issues, how to assess the current programs that are in place as well.”
Assessing current programs is only one of her goals for the University. An immediate goal for Barcelo is to evaluate the roles and activities the Learning Resource Center plays in the area of cultural diversity and disabilities.
A long-term goal of Barcelo’s is to help the College of Education work with grades K-12 to increase the pool of ACT test takers among minorities by starting skill development at early ages.
So far, Barcelo is impressed with the University’s commitment to diversity. “I have even greater hope then when I came here because I see the potential, and I see the desire of individuals to work on these issues with us.”
In fact, Barcelo is so pleased that she sees the University setting an example for other diversity programs. “I think (the University) can become a model for other institutions to follow. I’m really excited about the possibility.”