Registration is open for this fall's Cedar Valley Conference on Diversity & Inclusion

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The University of Northern Iowa, in partnership with the YWCA of Black Hawk County, Infiniti Enterprises and Legacy Branding & Event Services, will host “Engage, Empower, Act: A Cedar Valley Conference on Diversity and Inclusion,” Friday, Oct. 13. In a unique twist that emphasizes collaboration between the community and the university, the event is divided into two related sections at two different sites. Part I, The Diversity and Inclusion Mindset, will be from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in the Commons on the UNI campus. Part II, Education, Advocacy and Policing: Supporting a School-to-Success Pipeline, will be from 2:30 to 5 p.m., at the YWCA in Waterloo. Both parts of the event are free and open to the public.

Jason Sole
Jason Sole

Iowa, like all U.S. states, is experiencing rapidly changing demographics that will profoundly affect the way the state does business and engages its citizens. Specifically, Iowa is facing an aging and declining white population and an increasingly “brown” population that is growing. At the same time, employers will find that the people positioned to enter the job market are non-whites. “Employers must be prepared to work with and welcome people with disabilities, military veterans and individuals who identify as members of the LGBTQ population,” said Gwenne Berry, assistant to the president and chief diversity officer at UNI. “The Engage, Empower, Act Conference is designed to educate all attendees about diversity, inclusion and how participants can directly and personally effect both.”

The conference keynoter will be Jason Sole, who was born in Minnesota but grew up in Waterloo. Sole, president of the Minneapolis NAACP and assistant professor at Hamline University, presents on current issues including race, community-police relations and protest. Beyond his activism and academics, he has faced his own struggles within the criminal justice system. A three-time convicted felon and former gang leader, Sole speaks from personal experience. Due to his significant level of “street cred,” he has positively affected conversations about societal framework related to race in America. His work recently led to the resignation of the Minneapolis Police Chief. Sole is the author of the book “From Prison to Ph.D.: A Memoir of Hope, Resilience and Second Chances.” Sole has a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his dissertation to complete his doctorate in Public Safety with a specialization in Criminal Justice.

Mark A. Nook, UNI president, said the conference rose from student demands for increased attention to diversity issues. It is his hope that it will be an annual event. “Since those requests, we’ve developed a strategic plan that is focused on student success. But under that, as goal number one, is diversity and inclusion. This conference is one of the many, many ways our campus and community will see the institution demonstrating its commitment to achieving that goal,” he said.  

Another noted presenter during the conference will be Mark Prosser, chief of police in Storm Lake since 1989 and public safety director there since 2000. Prosser has spoken extensively throughout Iowa on issues related to diversity and shifting demographics. He also has presented in New York, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Minneapolis and for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nebraska. Storm Lake is one of the most diverse communities in Iowa, at 80 percent non-white and 18 different languages spoken in its public school system.

T. Elon Dancy
T. Elon Dancy

Following the presentations, the participants will travel to the YWCA where Sole will engage the community in a deep conversation about next steps in education, advocacy and policing to support a strong school to success pipeline in our community.  

The conference will also include welcomes by UNI President Nook, Cedar Falls Mayor Jim Brown and Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart. “What a wonderful opportunity to join forces, support and engage the city's partnerships with UNI, Waterloo and the entire Cedar Valley for something like diversity and inclusion. I look forward to being a part of the conference,” said Brown.

Hart said he was pleased to see the collaborative effort behind the conference, bringing together the university and the Waterloo community specifically. “This is what will help us begin the conversations necessary for connecting the talent to the opportunities that are some of our best kept secrets.”

To register and for additional information, visit

Prior to the conference, the College of Education, the Center for Multicultural Education, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the Chief Diversity Officer will present “Advancing UNI’s Strategic Plan: Partnering on Diversity Initiatives.”  Through that effort will be a series of events featuring T. Elon Dancy, professor of Education, African and African-American Students, and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma Center for Social Justice. The events run Oct. 9 through 11 and will feature a Diversity Colloquium, “Strategies for Teaching About Power and Privilege in the University Classroom,” from 2 to 4 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 11, in the ScholarSpace of the UNI Rod Library. The public is invited to attend. 


Gwenne Berry, assistant to the president and chief diversity officer, 319-273-2820,

Lindsay Cunningham, Office of University Relations, 319-273-2761,