At least a year or so before America’s half-year of racial reckoning sparked by George Floyd’s murder in May, the University of Iowa started to look more seriously into its own racial culture on its campus.
Iowa is no different from most PWIs (predominately White institutions) when it comes to Black students. Black athletes are typically singled out from regular Black students, but both are oftentimes seen and treated differently from their White counterparts.
“We found a few things” after conducting a 2018 campus climate survey, said Broderick Binns in a recent MSR interview. The UI survey found “several challenges related to diversity, equity and inclusion,” including that many students of color had “difficulty speaking up in class and concern that they will be negatively judged by their peers or the instructor.”
Students (17%) who reported discrimination said it was based on racial or ethnic identity, and “a lower percentage of students report feeling like they belong at the University of Iowa compared to White students.”
A new administration position was created—executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion for UI athletics, and Binns, a football staff member for six years who played for Iowa (2008-11), was named to the post. It is a natural fit for the St. Paul native and Cretin-Derham Hall graduate. He came to Iowa several years ago already accustomed to being at a PWI.
“Cretin-Derham Hall was exactly like Iowa, predominately White,” he pointed out. “I was probably one of 5-10 minorities in my class. When I got to Iowa, I was already comfortable in this setting.”
After his college playing days, the two-time All-Big Ten player had hoped to play in the NFL, then go into coaching. “I graduated in 2012” with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and two minors in African American studies and human relations, continued Binns. “I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent. I was there for a cup of coffee, and I ended up getting cut.
“I figured if I couldn’t play the sport, I definitely wanted to coach,” he said. He started coaching three sports at his old high school, then worked his way up the college coaching ladder. “That was my mindset,” he stated.
Binns returned to Iowa and later earned a master’s in sport and recreation management. He also was a Hawkeye graduate assistant football coach in 2014 and 2015. Then he was promoted to director of football player development in 2016.
Now a married father of two, Binns soon realized that college coaching wasn’t what he had envisioned. “I quickly realized in my third year [as a GA] that being a college coach is not what I wanted to be,” he admitted. “The money’s great, but the amount of hours, the amount of time it takes you away from your family…
“I’m not on board dragging my wife and my kids to different campuses. It was something I didn’t want to be a part of. Being in an administrative role was a little more stable for me,” Binns said.
Working on diversity, equity and inclusion issues at Iowa “can no longer be a one-off meeting, workshop or training. 2020 has been a tough year for everyone. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
“Are we there right now? No. There is always work to be done. I think I’m on the right path and in the right direction and got the right support behind me to make sure we’re going the right way.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.