UNI project launches social justice website highlighting Black Hawk County

UNI NEWS SERVICES - The University of Northern Iowa “Diversity Is Our Strength” project will launch its social justice website and complementary mural spotlighting members of the community who lead and advocate for change and equality on June 19.

The website (www.uni.edu/dios) and mural, which will be installed on the side of the Levi Bros’ building in downtown Waterloo, celebrates the diverse voices of Black Hawk County from elementary to higher education. Visitors to the web site are also equipped with documentation on racial and ethnic inequality in the county, as well as anti-racism resources collected by University of Northern Iowa faculty Shuaib Meacham and Bettina Fabos.A mural planned in downtown Waterloo.

Meacham and Fabos started the project to create a dialog about diversity in Black Hawk County and Iowa in general. “While visiting relatives in the Washington D.C, area, I was showing them photos of my work with young people in Waterloo,” Meacham, a UNI literacy education professor, said. “They had this strange look on their face as they looked at my laptop, so I asked them, ‘What is the matter? What are you looking at?’ Their response was, ‘There are this many black people in Iowa?’” 

According to Meacham, this is a typical response that reflects a lack of general knowledge about Iowa from those outside of the state, and also reflects the ways that Iowa represents itself to the world outside of Iowa. Through the #DiversityIsOurStrength project, Meacham and collaborator Fabos aim to showcase Iowa’s rich diversity and complicate what it means to be Iowan.

The website, which will launch Friday, was developed, designed and coded by Fabos’ team of Interactive Digital Studies (IDS) Practicum students at UNI. The class drew inspiration from Meacham’s work and the writings of Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, “1619 Project” creator and Waterloo native. Besides documenting the diverse backgrounds, hopes, dreams and visions of nearly 60 young and old community members in Black Hawk County, the #DiversityIsOurStrength project includes statistics exposing racial disparities in education, ownership and poverty throughout the Cedar Valley.

“The reason why black and brown Iowans don't exist for the rest of the country is that Iowa's practices of self-representation erase the existence of its black and brown citizens,” said Meacham, “The ‘Diversity Is Our Strength’ project sends the message that not only are we here, but we are here doing great things often in the face of formidable opposition and structural obstacles.”

The website will launch and the mural will be installed on Juneteenth, a celebration of slave liberation. The mural will be installed by wheat paste artist Isaac Campbell, with support from the Waterloo Center for the Arts. Visit the site at https://www.uni.edu/dios.



Shuaib Meacham, UNI associate professor, Literacy Education:,319-273-2629, shuaib.meacham@uni.edu

Bettina Fabos, UNI professor of Interactive Digital Studies, 319-273-5972, bettina.fabos@uni.edu

Kent Shankle, director, Waterloo Center of the Arts, 319-291-4490 ext. 3448, kent.shankle@waterloo-ia.org