Groups ease transition for underrepresented faculty, staff

Embarking on a career move is exciting, albeit riddled with some apprehension.

Will I be successful in my new job?
Will I get along with my colleagues?
Will I enjoy living in my new community?

On top of that, if you identify with an underrepresented group -- such as Black, Asian-American or LGBTQ+ -- and your new job is at a predominantly white university in a mostly white college town, that apprehension quickly can escalate to anxiety.

Iowa State's faculty and staff affinity (FSA) groups, some with roots to the 1980s, seek to quell such anxieties and open doors to social and networking opportunities. There currently are five active groups on campus. Membership numbers into the hundreds, with room for more. The groups are:


The primary focus of the groups is to create a welcoming, inviting atmosphere for underrepresented ISU faculty, staff and their families and supporters.

"There are many social events and opportunities for meaningful connection within a group and between the FSAs," said Nicci Port, project director for LGBTQA+ affairs in the division of diversity and inclusion. "Different groups have different purposes, but in general, it's about building community and getting acculturated to the campus in the hopes for the retention of really creative, diverse faculty and staff."

All are welcome

Any faculty and staff member may participate in an affinity group, whether or not they are a member of the FSA's identified population. To join, contact the group's leadership team to get on an email list. There are no obligations to take part in the activities.

Sometimes, a family member might be the impetus for a faculty or staff member to seek out membership in an FSA.

"We bring in faculty and staff who may not be a particular demographic, but a spouse or partner may be," said Reginald Stewart, vice president for diversity and inclusion. "By establishing the type of network that says we are welcoming people to the community, everyone can immediately find a place."


Port said most faculty and staff use membership in the affinity groups to connect socially to the campus and Ames communities.

"When people join a group, they may be in search of nuts-and-bolts information -- where are the people who are like me, where are the places I can hang out and fully be me, where can I find a faith community -- and from there, they connect in whatever ways they prefer," Port said.

Typically, each group meets about once a month, usually for social and networking events. Activities may include a welcome-back cookout in the fall, book clubs, progressive dinners or end-of-year gatherings.

"Events are designed to be engaging and afford opportunities to build relationships outside of formal work constructs," Stewart said.

Faculty and Staff Association Council

While the affinity groups operate independently, leaders from each group meet monthly as part of the Faculty and Staff Association (FSA) Council. The council, established in 2013, also meets with representatives from the division of diversity and inclusion and academic affairs.

The primary purpose of the meetings is to touch base and provide information about what each FSA is doing. In some cases, those conversations have led to larger, university-impacting collaborations. Through the FSA Council, FSAs have taken part in the university's strategic planning process and participated in the search committee and hiring process for the vice president for diversity and inclusion. Currently, the council is working with university human resources to put prospective ISU employees in contact with current faculty and staff from underrepresented populations during the on-campus interview process.


The division of diversity and inclusion funds programming for the affinity groups.

"The most fundamental thing is that we want to make sure the work of building an inclusive campus is funded and supported by Iowa State University," Stewart said.

"The work of these faculty and staff associations has always been grassroots. We can make administrative oversight and policy, but really the core activity comes from the community, the people."

Start a group

Don't see a group that speaks to you? Consider starting one. Stewart says if you've identified a potential group and need guidance on how to proceed, contact the division of diversity and inclusion, 294-8840.

"We can provide best practices and mentor them," Stewart said.