Culture and Diversity

Iowa Public Radio's Culture and Diversity reports go in-depth to examine what it is like to be a minority in Iowa. The reports look at the issues, history, cultural traditions, challenges and future of each diverse group of people that are part of Iowa. Correspondent Rob Dillard and other IPR reporters tell the stories by talking with the leaders and having intimate discussions with some members of each group, and taking listeners to the places that exemplify these communities.

Iowa Public Radio's Culture and Diversity reporting is funded in part by The Principal Financial Group Foundation and The Dr. Richard Deming Foundation.

Katie Peikes / IPR

A recent poll suggests Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has struggled to gain support among African American voters. The former South Bend, Ind. mayor pushed a message of racial diversity and equality during a stop in Sioux City last Thursday.

Katie Peikes / IPR file

Members of the Native American community will march Wednesday in Sioux City to honor Native children who have died in foster care or are lost to the system. But after a prominent local activist died earlier this year, the community is looking to fill the void he left behind.


Western Iowa’s Denison Community School District has determined a high school teacher who used a racial slur last week had “no malicious intent.”

Katie Peikes / IPR

Students from western Iowa’s Denison High School walked out of their classes in protest Tuesday morning, calling for an outside investigation into racism and diversity issues in the school. This comes after Denison Community Schools placed a teacher on leave for using a racial slur in class discussions last week. 

Emily Woodbury

This program originally aired on 4-24-18

When Leigh Ann Erickson taught in Chicago and New York, she witnessed the effects of social injustice every day.

But the view from small town Iowa can be very different. That’s why Erickson founded a social justice course, an African American literature course, and the CARE Conference at Mount Vernon High School. Through this curriculum, Erickson hopes to broaden her students' perspectives about income inequality, race, and the criminal justice system. 

Christopher Gannon / Iowa State University

Beginning in the fall, Iowa State University students with disabilities will have a laboratory where they can gather to use assistive learning technologies.

Some $24,000 from student computer fees at ISU will help buy the needed technology for the 200-square-foot space.

The university’s digital accessibility coordinator, Cyndi Wiley, says much of the equipment is standard for this type of learning lab.

“We’re going to have some of the more typical assistive technologies," she says. "Speech-to-text, text-to-speech software, screen readers, screen magnifiers.”

Courtesy of the ACLU

The ACLU of Iowa has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a law that denies transgender Iowans on Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery.

Rob Dillard / IPR

The student chosen to deliver the Hoover Class of 2019 commencement address before 223 graduates is a perfect representative of a high school widely acknowledged as Iowa’s most ethnically diverse. Tam Cao came to the U.S. at the age of 16 unable to speak English. She entered Hoover as a sophomore dreaming of becoming a cheerleader. She told her classmates she felt alone and scared.

“This was a dark period of my life, when everything appeared to be impossible,” she said to the graduates just before they receive their diplomas.

Kate Payne / IPR

One year ago this week, immigration officials detained 32 workers at a concrete plant in Mount Pleasant. Twelve months later, most of the men’s legal cases are still pending. Eight of the men have deported, and the rest have been released on bond and are back living with their families in Mount Pleasant. While a handful have received work permits, most can’t work, and are still waiting for immigration hearings.


The University of Iowa released a plan Thursday to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at the school. The strategy is based on a campus survey that found overall satisfaction among the UI community varies greatly according to demographics. University leaders have been working for two years to compile the data, analyze and draft a plan they say will improve campus culture for the better.

ACLU of Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday struck down the state’s policy excluding transgender people from using Medicaid coverage for transition-related surgical care.

Kate Payne

University of Iowa students are sharing their experiences with discrimination at the school under the  hashtag, #DoesUIowaLoveMe. The campaign is attracting attention on campus and online.

Abingdon Press

For white people who are committed to equity and justice, living in a nation that remains racially unjust and still deeply segregated creates unique challenges.  These challenges begin early in life and impact the racial development of white children in powerful ways.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

For many of today’s high school students, life is a daily drama filled with plenty of outside-the-classroom distractions. The job of keeping these young people focused on their studies falls often times on the school counselors.

Michael Dean comes to his position as a counselor at Hoover High with some relevant experience.

“Before I started working in schools, I worked for juvenile delinquents and I did a lot of counseling and mentoring with juvenile delinquents and at-risk kids,” he says.

Brandon Giesbrecht / flickr

The National Alliance for Audition Support is celebrating its first birthday this month. The alliance was formed to make major orchestras look more like the cities in which they're located. 

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

Gunfire in a nearby parking lot disrupted the Hoover High School homecoming football game in Des Moines in September. The incident made vivid the many stories about armed violence in and around the nation’s schools.

Hoover stages drills throughout the year to prepare students, teachers and administrators for emergencies. Vice-Principal Jamie Badger is on the intercom to begin a simulated lockdown of the north-side Des Moines high school.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

The Des Moines branch of the I Have a Dream Foundation is withdrawing from the national organization. It's changing its name and turning local.

Des Moines schools have been part of the education initiative to prepare low-income students for college for 28 years. It will now be known as the By Degrees Foundation. Its chief executive officer, Emily Westergaard, says the name change better reflects the program’s mission.

Katie Peikes / IPR file

Members of the Native American community journeyed on foot through Sioux City on Wednesday to memorialize Native children who have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

Hundreds of Drake University students rallied on campus Wednesday in response to some recent racist incidents. It was a call for students of all backgrounds to come together against hate.

In one case, a threatening racist note was slipped under a student’s dorm room door. Then earlier this week, robo-calls from an Idaho-based white supremacist group arrived on some 250 students land lines. Sophomore Manasi Singh from Clive says the incidents have served to galvanize the student body.

Thomas Hawk via flickr creative commons /

Veterans from western Iowa gathered at Western Iowa Technical Community College in Sioux City Monday to talk about the challenges in starting or growing a small business and the resources they can use after reentering civilian society.

Joyce Russell/IPR

More Iowans may end up available to serve on juries through a project underway at the Iowa Judicial Branch aimed at making jury pools more inclusive.  

The Committee on Jury Selection wants to ensure that African-Americans and other minorities are fairly represented.   

State court administrator Todd Nuccio says to broaden the jury pool, they hope to tap lists of Iowans registered with the Department of Revenue, in addition to the current lists from voting rolls or driver’s licenses.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

At Hoover High School on the northwest side of Des Moines, the student body is made up of kids who speak 40 languages. This means teachers who specialize in English Language Learners carry an especially heavy burden. 

It’s spelling lesson time in the second-year ELL class taught by Ann Mincks. She's sounding out the word tap and explaining what it means.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement was under discussion Tuesday at the annual Summit on Justice and Disparities, sponsored by the NAACP.   The gathering focuses each year on the disproportionate presence of African-Americans in Iowa’s Criminal Justice System.  

Held on the Ankeny campus of Des Moines Area Community College, the program included panels on getting more black people on juries, disrupting the school to prison pipeline, and racial profiling by police.  

Riverhead Books

Casey Gerald has written a memoir, "There Will Be No Miracles Here." (Riverhead Books)  Gerald was the final speaker in this year's Green Room series, a community-wide educational experiment at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City and a University of Iowa Honors Course taught by Dave Gould.

Courtesy of Erica DeLeon / One Siouxland

Becoming a United States citizen is complicated. Immigrants are often faced with many choices in an unpredictable process that can take years, even decades.

In Sioux City, an immigration services nonprofit recently tried to replicate these challenges, by simulating what the citizenship process is like.

Red Earth Running Company


Red Earth Running Company is an athletic outfitter, local race sponsor, and Iowa-based company. But more than that, Red Earth Running Company may very well be the first business of its kind geared at supporting indigenous runners.

Dirk Whitebreast, a member of the Meskwaki Nation, created Red Earth Running Company after noticing a distinct lack of representation for indigenous identity in the national running community and in the outfitting and advertising materials that support the sport.

U.S. Department of Education /


People often choose to group up with others they relate to in gender, race, and other demographics; but research shows that increasing diversity and inclusion in workplace and educational settings can lead to more creative, productive outcomes.


Katie Peikes/IPR

Native American activists say they see a void in northwest Iowa as their people try to heal from alcoholism, drug abuse and traumatic experiences. They built a sweat lodge over the weekend in Sioux City that they hope will inspire people to seek out the healing they need.

planned parenthood clinic
Sarah Boden/IPR File

Sitting outside the Iowa Capitol, Chelsea Chism-Vargas recalled the moment in 2017 when she found out state lawmakers were trying to cut off her access to Planned Parenthood. 

“I felt my shoulders go back and kind of a gasp like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my program.’”

For years, Chism-Vargas was getting free birth control pills and annual reproductive health exams at Planned Parenthood through a federally-funded family planning program for low-income and underinsured Iowans.

Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Members of Iowa’s Latino community gathered at the state capitol Thursday to honor the memory of Mollie Tibbetts and to unite against hateful rhetoric.

Vanessa Marcano-Kelly translated Lincon Guerra’s words.

“We are meeting here today in an act of solidarity and moral support to her family and loved ones, asking them to receive our deepest condolences and prayers.”

They released balloons, had a moment of silence, and prayed for Tibbetts, her family and others affected by violence.