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Intercultural Affairs Office hires new director and assistant director

Robby Specht (left), new assistant director of intercultural affairs and Jazzmine Brooks (right), new director of intercultural affairs. Photo by Ariel Richards.

In November and December of 2021, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Grinnell welcomed a new assistant director of intercultural affairs and LGBTQIA+ student specialist, Robby Specht, as well as a new director of intercultural affairs and Black student specialist, Jazzmine Brooks.

Specht first became interested in diversity and inclusion work at Clarke University in Dubuque, IA, where they earned their undergraduate degree.

“The areas I gravitated towards were diverse areas, solely because I didn’t have them at my private liberal arts college. I was one of maybe five or six openly queer people out of 1,000 and some students,” Specht said.

Specht noted the importance of building friendships in order to feel connected at school, citing their friends as an important support structure throughout college. Through the course of their career, much of their work has involved creating spaces for queer people to exist in without worry. 

Specht ran the LGBT center at their grad school — that “sealed the deal,” they said. “To watch students actually have physical space and somebody looking out for them and see how they thrived, you just can’t beat that.”

Before coming to Grinnell, Specht worked in residence life at Virginia Tech. There, they ran the gender-inclusive housing program and created a living and learning community for queer students. But after a few months, they realized that they wanted to return to diversity, equity and inclusion work.

“This work, especially when you hold an identity that you work with, can be really taxing, but I realized after two months at Virginia Tech that I missed it,” Specht said.  

Currently, Specht is focusing on preparing for the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) to reopen for the first time since March 2020. The SRC, located in Younker pit, provides queer-centric resources like gender-affirming apparel for students and community hours in a safe space. The center will also facilitate programming for National Coming Out Day and a pride week held in April. 

“I want the SRC to be a space where students don’t have to worry about anything but being their authentic selves,” Specht said.  

Brooks, the new director of intercultural affairs and Black student specialist, looks forward to supporting Black communities on campus such as Concerned Black Students, Black Church and the Afro-Caribbean Student Association.

“This job was perfectly situated and perfectly timed for where I am in my development. My desire is to work with Blackness and build better and broader communities for Black people and Black students,” Brooks said. 

Brooks is currently a PhD student at Iowa State University where she studies Black maternal and infant health. She is one of the first Black certified doulas in Iowa. 

“I have found a way to blend the two, being a doula and working in higher education. I love the way I found my way back to higher ed through Grinnell,” Brooks said. 

Brooks was previously involved in the Black Womxn’s Group at Grinnell, where attendees build connections and create community with Black faculty and staff. They also worked to connect with Black staff faculty and alumni, something Brooks wants to keep exploring in their new role. 

“I want to continue to find ways to build bridges between Black alumni, staff, faculty and students. It can feel very isolated living in Iowa and being able to see each other creates meaning for the community,” Brooks said.

Brooks has also been at work making improvements to the Black Cultural Center (BCC) and has been meeting with students, staff, and faculty to learn about Grinnell culture, values, and priorities. 

“I want all Black joy and celebration,” she said, “all the communities, micro and macro, that are here to support and sustain Blackness — I want to support and enhance that experience.” 

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