Liz Crooks, UI Center for Human Rights

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

To say Liz Crooks is multifaceted is a pretty big understatement. To say she’s got a full plate is an even bigger one.

For the past seven years, Crooks has worked as the secretary of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). She’s accomplished a lot both personally and professionally during that time, including receiving a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. A lover of museums, she also picked up a certificate in museum studies, and connected UICHR with UI Pentacrest Museums as they opened the Biosphere Discovery Hub in 2007. Crooks helped the two organizations partner with a number of campus groups to bring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to campus to talk about climate change.

Crooks has also worked at Pentacrest Museums and the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, which currently houses part of the UI Museum of Art’s collection. She’s pursuing a graduate certificate from the UI Center for the Book and a graduate degree in museum studies at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill. A mother of three, she served on the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors from 2005–08.

Crooks is a passionate person, and the work she does at UICHR is evidence of that. As a nonprofit organization, UICHR receives support for its three part-time salaried positions from the University. The rest of its operating budget comes from grants and outside contracts. The center recently came across financial hardships, so Crooks has taken on a substantial portion of fundraising activities in addition to her normal workload.

Crooks took some of her limited free time to sit down with fyi to talk about the work UICHR does, why it is important to the University and the State of Iowa, and why she loves all things Iowan.

What do you do in your role at the UICHR?

I am responsible for providing clerical support, supervising our AmeriCorp*VISTA member and student interns, and managing a few programs and events. As the amount of state support we receive continues to shrink, I have taken on more and more of our fundraising activities. The funds we raise make possible our programs and outreach as well as pay staff salaries. It’s a part of my job I very much enjoy.

What are some of the things UICHR is involved in?

We host film screenings, lectures, panel discussions, workshops, public education campaigns, concerts, conferences, community reading programs, and collaborative service projects. Topics are far ranging—health care reform, the idea of Islamophobia, gay rights, and climate change, to name a few.

A few of my favorite things…
A finely crafted cocktail

Lunch at Oasis

Elvis Costello, R.E.M., John Hiatt

The movie Fargo

The show Absolutely Fabulous

Chicago Blackhawks

What types of opportunities does UICHR provide for students?

Of course students can attend our programs and events. They also can undertake internships working in UICHR alongside staff. There are funded internship program stipends for students who have secured a summer internship with a local, national, or international agency engaged in human rights related work. The areas of internships are incredible—from helping to establish clean water sources in Africa to working on indigenous peoples’ rights in Latin America to helping reduce the impact of poverty in Baltimore.

We also sponsor the Weston Essay prize contest, which is intended to promote understanding and the continuing advancement of international human rights.

How can people help or get involved with UICHR?

The easiest thing to do is come to our events! Check out our web site (international.uiowa.edu/centers/human-rights) for more information. While they are at the web site they can make a financial contribution and sign up for the weekly e-digest. They can always contact us by e-mail, give us a call, or stop by.

In addition to campus programming, what type of community outreach does the UICHR do?

There is our long-running community reading program, One Community, One Book, that is held each fall. We have a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Justice to extend outreach to the immigrant workforce in Iowa. It’s the kind of work I love and work UICHR is uniquely positioned to carry out. Through a partnership with the UI Labor Center and agencies and individuals across the state we’ve reached hundreds of Iowans through workshops and forums, both foreign-born workers and employers across the state. Our work helped them to understand and better follow immigration and employment law. This collaboration improved the lives of Iowans. That’s what The University of Iowa is supposed to do—improve and enrich lives.

What do you do in your free time?

I like to travel. I like to go to museums. I like letterpress printing. Most of my travel happens with my family and is centered in the Midwest. We have a pet crayfish named Claw’d. He is pretty awesome.

I am passionate about all things Iowan. I collect Buck roses, a hardy rose developed by Griffith Buck. He was a horticulturist at Iowa State University. When he retired all his breeding stock was destroyed and the roses were nearly lost. My yard isn’t big enough to collect oak trees (the state tree), or I would collect those!

I was born and raised on a farm in Johnson County and my children are the eighth generation of my family to grow up here. It’s a special place to me, and the work that the University does for the rest of the state is important to me. Sharing the University’s mission, along with the mission of UICHR, with the people of Iowa is important to me. That’s why the outreach we do is the best part of my job. I do everything else so we can do the outreach.