Tiffini Stevenson Earl, Equal Opportunity and Diversity

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

There’s a saying that goes, “I’d complain, but who’d listen?” At The University of Iowa, the answer is Tiffini Stevenson Earl.

Stevenson Earl is the senior compliance specialist and ADA coordinator in the UI Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. If a student or employee is concerned about accommodations, harassment, or infringement of civil rights, Stevenson Earl will investigate. Her job isn’t solely reactive. The EOD office offers educational programs to the UI campus; topics include sexual harassment, diversity, affirmative action, disability awareness, and fair hiring practices.

The University of Iowa alumnus spoke with fyi about her favorite aspects of her job, the need for universal design in all aspects of campus planning, and the reward she feels from simple gestures of courtesy and friendship from colleagues and administrators.

How did you get into this line of work?

I was in law school here from 1999–2002; during that time, I did an externship at the Iowa City Human Rights Office. I conducted complaint investigations and discovered how much I loved doing that kind of work. Shortly after that, the University sought someone to fill a part-time position for that same sort of work. My experience was a good fit, and to this day I love what I’ve been doing here (but now it’s full-time).

My main duty as the senior compliance specialist is to conduct complaint investigations pursuant to various University policies: sexual harassment, consensual relationships, human rights. As the ADA coordinator, I ensure the University’s compliance with the ADA and I assist students and employees with accommodation issues.

Have you always wanted to do this sort of work?

Well, ADA compliance wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as a kid, but I’ve always wanted to be an attorney. As a kid, that seemed appealing because I figured attorneys made a lot of money. But now, it’s not about making money. It’s about providing assistance to those who are experiencing difficulty in the classroom or the workplace.

I love working in a higher education setting, especially one where I received my undergraduate, graduate, and law degrees. And working in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity is wonderful. I have great colleagues. I have a great supervisor. Our new chief diversity officer, Georgina Dodge, is very supportive of my work.

Is there anything you’d change about your job?

If I could change anything, I’d add more hours to the day to get stuff done. Complaint investigations take a long time. Our policy says we try to have investigations completed within 45 days. Given that each case is unique, some might take longer than expected. Those extra hours would also come in handy around the house—our family consists of five children, which means plenty of laundry and dirty dishes!

What issues will you be focusing on in the near future?

A few of my favorite things…
Thai food
Ginger ale
Lunch at New Pi
Brian McKnight—when I listen to Pandora, I often start with Brian
An Officer and a Gentleman
Boston Celtics

Issues related to disability. There is a tendency to label people with disabilities as “them” and not a part of “us.” I hope that mindset changes. That is why universal design is so important—its “one size fits all” approach allows for an environment that is usable by all people with very little adaptation. We have to consider the needs of people with disabilities at the forefront and not as an afterthought. If we start taking a broader approach to planning, we would likely see a decrease in ADA-related complaints.

Is disability synonymous with diversity?

I think disability is a part of diversity, but I think it can also get lost within the larger realm of diversity. Both issues belong in the forefront.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?

I’m typically reserved when it comes to talking about my private/personal life—fyi is getting me to open up. I met my husband, Acie, at the University when we were undergrads. We met at the Main Library, believe it or not. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I moved with him to Boston and Toronto as he played professional basketball. It had the potential to disrupt my educational goals, specifically going to law school. It did pay off. It gave me the opportunity to live a different lifestyle, yet remain grounded and keep my goals in perspective as I prepared for graduate school and law school at the UI. Now, married with five children, we call Iowa City our home.

You mentioned that the Boston Celtics is your favorite sports team. Did you like the Celtics before your husband played for the team?

No, I didn’t! Growing up, I was a Lakers fan, watching Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Once Acie started playing for Boston, I didn’t have a choice! [laughs] Now, even today, I still love the Celtics. I think they have plenty of talent to make another run.

What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened to you at work?

Walking in Jessup Hall and being greeted by upper administrators by my first name. Something totally unexpected. It’s another reason why I love working here—real, genuine people.

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