Early History of Multicultural Student Affairs at Iowa State

Tracking down administrative histories can be a difficult process. Even after working in the archives for many years these fact-finding missions can be a challenge. For this blog post I wanted to look at the early history of what we now call the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. This office had its origins in 1968 with the eight grievances presented to campus administration by Iowa State’s Black student athletes. You can read more about that event in an earlier blog post.

The results of this conversation between administration and the students was a better understanding of the University’s responsibility in supporting underrepresented groups on campus. One of the first steps the administration took was to hire staff to develop programs to highlight and support Iowa State’s minority student populations. These programs were initially overseen by staff in the Dean of Students Office and geared towards Iowa State’s Black student population. It is unclear exactly when the Office of Minority Student Programs was established; resources point to 1972 or 1973 as the most likely year though. What is certain is that Robert Lott was the first coordinator of this office. The following individuals played key roles in the development of these early programs at Iowa State.

Portrait of William Bell

William Bell, Associate Dean of Students, circa 1968, was Iowa State’s first administrator hired to develop and oversee programs geared specifically for students of color. (University Photograph Collection, RS 7/3/A, Box 457)

William Bell was hired as Associate Dean of Students in September of 1968 as a direct result of the demands submitted by the Black students. Bell came to Ames from his previous position as professor of physical education and director of athletics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Bell was instrumental in establishing a number of programs during his two years at Iowa State. At his urging, the University initiated projects in coordination with historically Black colleges and universities including a faculty exchange program with Prairie View State College of Texas and fellowships in the Department of Agronomy aimed at increasing the numbers of Black graduate students in that department. Bell also helped organize Iowa State’s first Black Cultural Week, assisted in the establishment of the Black Cultural Center, participated in the recruitment of Black students and faculty, and assisted with the student counseling program. Bell also oversaw the Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholarship Fund, established in 1968, which helped students of color attend college. In 1970, Bell left Iowa State to return to his home state of North Carolina.

Iowa State Daily news clipping announcing the hiring of Harold Pollard and Willis Bright.

Article that appeared in the Thursday, November 12, 1970, issue of the Iowa State Daily announcing the hire of Harold Pollard as Assistant Dean of Students and Willis Bright who would split his duties as Program Adviser in the Dean of Students Office and Counselor in the Student Counseling Service. (Willis Bright, Dean of Students Office biographical files, RS 7/3/2)

The fall of 1970 saw the hiring of Harold Pollard as Assistant Dean of Students. According to the November 12, 1970 article in the Iowa State Daily, Pollard’s role specialized in human relations programs, with an emphasis on programs for the Black Cultural Center and assisting with recruitment of minority students and faculty. Although student affairs programming was not yet a specific unit within the Dean of Students Office, the scope of the activities was growing. The 1971 Dean of Students Office annual report notes that this was the first year in which the university specifically recruited minority students to campus although other sources note that this recruitment started in 1967. This same report notes that there were approximately 175 students of color on campus at this time (out of a total student population of around 19,300). Pollard left Iowa State after a year.

1970 also saw the hiring of Willis Bright who served as a part-time Program Advisor in the Dean of Students Office and as a Counselor in the Student Counselling Service. Bright would advise and work closely with Iowa State’s Black students, serve on the Affirmative Action Committee, and develop programs associated with the Black Cultural Center. Bright resigned in the summer of 1973.

Portrait of Robert Lott

Robert Lott, circa 1972, was hired as Assistant Dean of Students and became Iowa State’s first Coordinator/Director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs. (University Photograph Collection, RS 7/3/A, Box 457)

Robert Lott was hired as Assistant Dean of Students in December 1971 to replace Pollard. He was given responsibility for minority student programs, the Black Cultural Center, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship fund. Lott was also placed in charge of administering the student orientation program. During his time at Iowa State, the University would develop an Affirmative Action Program and hold its first Black Awareness Week on campus. Lott would help develop the Advanced Preparation Program, an orientation program aimed at assisting incoming Black students transition to the University community. He also supported recruitment of more students of color. With the formation of the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs in 1973, Lott was named Assistant to the Vice President and Director of the Office of Minority Student Programs.  Lott resigned from his post in September 1974.

From this point on there would continue to be an office on campus dedicated to improving the lives and experiences of Iowa State’s students of color. However, it would not be until George Jackson arrived on campus in 1978 that the Office had sustained and stable leadership. The name of the office may have changed over the years, but their mission is largely the same. According the their website, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs “supports and empowers Iowa State University’s students who self-identify as African American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Latinx, Native American/Alaskan Native and/or Multiracial, and advocates for their holistic development across the University.”

There are many others who helped develop these early programs for students of color, I have just highlighted a few. You can learn more of this history by doing your own research in Special Collections and University Archives. We would love to see you!

One thought on “Early History of Multicultural Student Affairs at Iowa State

  1. Pingback: Celebrate Black History All Year-Round! | Cardinal Tales

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