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Newscast 4.29.24: Cleanup from tornado damages continues in Iowa & Nebraska; All 3 Iowa public universities are closing down DEI offices

Nebraska Tornado 2024
Chris Machian, Associated Press
A tornado is shown near Waverly, Nebraska, on April 26, 2024.

Cleanup and delivery of donated recovery items like water bottles snd food continues in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska on Monday, in the aftermath of tornado strikes that took place Friday.

The governors of the two states have issued emergency designations for Pottawattamie County in Iowa, and Douglas, Lancaster and Washington counties in Nebraska.

Those counties and other places were struck by tornadoes, high winds and severe thunderstorms, with hundreds of people displaced from damaged homes and businesses.

A preliminary report from the National Weather Service says at least a dozen tornadoes struck Iowa on Friday night. In the small town of Minden, Iowa, just east of Omaha, the storm killed one person and damaged or destroyed 180 houses and businesses in the town with a population of 600.

Sixteen-year-old Avery Assmann says her family and four dogs were in the basement when the tornado struck. She said her home is still standing, but others weren’t as fortunate.

“There's a lot of trees down. A lot of people's houses are down. A lot of people's siding is gone. But the house isn't gone. There are two houses that came off their foundation. So, they're just like in people's yards, but it's very scary to see the town like that,” Assman said.

People from Omaha to Des Moines dropped off donations for storm victims.

Governor Kim Reynolds visited on Saturday, and said at least 40 percent of the homes and businesses in Minden were damaged or destroyed.

JoDee Junkman is the Director of the Neola Area Community Center, where a distribution center has been set up for storm victims.

“It’s amazing. It just makes you feel good. We've had some families come in to go through donations, and they're almost in tears because of everything that's here that they can use,” Junkman said.

* Additionally, Iowa’s three public universities have reported they are close to having fully implemented Iowa Board of Regents directives on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

The board in November 2023 called on universities to abandon DEI programming deemed unnecessary for accreditation or compliance.

All three universities will have closed their DEI offices by July 1 or sooner.

University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook in the regents meeting last week said UNI is taking resources out of its closed DEI office, and using them for training leadership in student organizations that can offer services to affinity groups who formerly worked with DEI employees.

Robert Cramer is an Iowa Board of Regents Member.

"Instead of the university picking and choosing which groups they’re going to create as being paid for by the university; instead, you get the university to take a step back and empower these students, train these students with leadership, so the students can lead all these different affinity groups," Cramer said.

University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson said while lawyers will determine the finer points, in complying with the Regents’ directives, the universities are substantially complying with new state law.

“I think much of what we are doing is in the spirit of the law frankly and so I think it will be good for us to work together to figure that out," Wilson said.

For the University of Iowa that led to the elimination of five currently open positions, saving $360,000. Among the other changes, the universities say policies will prevent any requirement to use pronouns and will cultivate new programming on building civic dialogue on campuses.

A lot of attention was given to the remarks by Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen. She spoke about ways to make sure all students coming to Iowa State would experience a welcoming community environment.

Wintersteen noted that decades ago, women were seen as not welcome on college campuses, nor were black men.

She then cited a program that was put in place for first-year students in the 1990s called Learning Communities.

Wintersteen said such Learning Communities were set up, quote “so that a young man, young white man, from rural Iowa, could come and be in a learning community and find the place where they could belong.”

Some people took that comment to mean that that DEI is being ended so that white people don’t feel ill at ease at ISU, while others noted that President Wintersteen was giving context to the merits of having Learning Communities.

Three of the five DEI positions at Iowa State University are vacant, and Wintersteen said the other two will end by July.

As all that discussion took place at the Board of Regents meeting last week, there’s a bill passed by the Legislature banning DEI from Iowa’s public universities that Reynolds is considering signing.