‘I’m not going to teach in Iowa’: UNI students explain why they’re not sticking around

State Sen. Eric Giddens, a Democrat who represents parts of Black Hawk, Benton and Tama counties, held a listening post about why young people were fleeing the state at the University of Northern Iowa on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

By Amie Rivers

February 23, 2024

She grew up in Ames and went to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in Cedar Falls to become a teacher. But Lydia plans to leave Iowa as soon as she graduates.

“Here at UNI, there’s so much emphasis in our classes on social-emotional learning and inclusion and talking about issues of diversity,” she said. “And then, at the legislative level … there are so many restrictions on prohibiting the types of things we’re encouraged to do here as educators.”

Another student, Carolina, said the Iowa Board of Regents’ policy change to stop funding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs along with recent legislation targeting LGBTQ+ Iowans was a reason she wouldn’t stick around.

“When looking for jobs and looking for opportunities, it’s better to look outside of the state; that’s what [that legislation] signals in my opinion,” she said.

These thoughts were shared during a Friday morning listening post held at UNI by State Sen. Eric Giddens, a Democrat whose district includes the college. The theme of the event was, “Why are young people fleeing the state?”

“I have the same concerns,” Giddens told students. “I feel like we’ve got bigger issues in the state, and it’s like—wherever you are on these social issues—they should not be the highest concern for state government in my opinion right now.”

But it went beyond that. Another student, Isaac, mentioned that it wasn’t just white-collar professionals who wanted to leave because of bad legislation.

“I already know that state employees aren’t allowed to strike. And if Iowa becomes a lot more hostile against worker protections, I could see a lot of people that get trained in trades and such leaving the state,” he said.

Other students mentioned a lack of amenities, the state’s abysmal mental health care system, and abortion rights getting chipped away.

Afterward, Giddens said he “agreed with all of the ideas” at the listening session. He said even though Democrats like him were in the minority party, “there are important ways that I can be influential” in getting those ideas noticed at the Iowa Legislature.

“Improving public education, access to health care, improving our workforce—those are the kind of things that they would like to see state government doing that would help them want to stay here,” Giddens said. “And not all of these divisive, distracting, and frankly damaging topics that the Legislature—the majority [Republican] party—continues to kind of push.”

@iowastartingline What would keep you from leaving #iowa? That’s what State Sen. Eric Giddens wanted to know at the University of Northern Iowa today. #news #politics ♬ original sound – Iowa Starting Line

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.


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