University of Iowa investigating 'hate-speech,' 'racially-biased drawings' after black student assaulted

'We will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus'

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IOWA CITY — Days after news broke of a University of Iowa student assaulted by men using racial slurs, someone wrote “racially-biased” drawings on a whiteboard in the campus’ Quadrangle Hall, and police are investigating.

The offensive drawings, written Friday evening, defaced a positive “Black Lives Matter” statement with “hate-speech directed at black and African American people as an ethnic and racial group,” according to a letter sent Monday afternoon to Quadrangle residents.

Monica Marcelo, assistant director of residence education and acting hall coordinator for Quadrangle, wrote in the letter that no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the act.

“But I am hopeful that they will so that we can have a learning opportunity from the incident,” she wrote. “Words can and have had a negative impact on our community.”

UI police also responded and are investigating the drawings, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.

“We will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus for students of all backgrounds,” she said in a statement. “No one should feel that their race or any aspect of their identity makes them a target.”

The incident occurred just days after UI student Marcus Owens, 19, reported being assaulted outside an Iowa City restaurant by individuals using racial epithets. Owens’ uncle, Darrell Owens, told The Gazette his nephew had been eating with friends at Eden Lounge and was on the phone in a walkway in the 200 block of Iowa Avenue between 10 and 11 p.m. Saturday when someone yelled a racial slur at him. Marcus ignored it and told the suspect he didn’t want trouble, his uncle said.

That’s when another man hit him, causing injuries — his front teeth were knocked out, he suffered damage to an eye socket, and he needed almost a dozen stitches to his lip. He received treatment at the UI Hospitals and Clincs, and went to UI police to report the assault between 10:45 and 11 p.m. Monday.

A UI police staff member referred Owens to the Iowa City Police Department after hearing where the alleged attack occurred — that person did not ask questions about whether Owens was a student or when he had been assaulted.

Owens showed up at Iowa City police at 11:21 p.m. Monday and filed a report, and investigators said they have several good leads on suspects in the case.

Some people have criticized the UI police handling of the case, saying the authorities should have asked more questions that would have allowed them to notify the campus and decry the allegations.

UI President Bruce Harreld came out with a statement condemning any racist behavior on campus and vowing to improve police protocol in how it responds to individuals wanting to report a crime.

Students on campus and beyond have gathered in solidarity for Owens and the cause, and many on social media demanded UI action using the hashtag, #ExplainIowa.

In the residence hall letter Monday — following the racist remarks in the Quad — hall coordinator Marcelo said “this bias-related incident counteracts the hard work that has been done to create an inclusive floor environment.”

“As a leader of the Quadrangle Hall community at the University of Iowa, I wholeheartedly embrace my responsibility to create a welcoming environment for all members of our community,” she wrote.

And she reminded students of their similar commitment.

“You were issued the Iowa Challenge at orientation, and I encourage you to embrace the ‘stretch’ expectation and accept this responsibility for our diverse community as well,” she wrote.

Marcelo said she doesn’t know the intention of the person who wrote the offensive drawings, but she personally found them “harmful.”

“It impacts me directly, because it impacts people that live in my community,” she wrote. “Statements like the ones that were written send the statement that not everyone is welcome in Quadrangle Hall or the University of Iowa, which is counter to our mission and values.”

Marcelo offered to meet with any students who have been impacted by the incident or want to talk more about it, and she offered additional campus resources including UI Counseling Services or the Office of the Ombudsperson. She also asked for information about who might have been involved.

“It is my sincere hope and expectation that incidents like the one that happened on Friday night do not happen in the future,” she wrote.

Brad Pector, a UI junior who in the fall organized large protests against the Board of Regents and President Harreld, said he learned about the Quadrangle vandalism Monday night on Facebook and wasn’t totally surprised.

“The racial climate at the university is horrible,” he said. “This is another instance where we’re seeing violence against people of color here, and it’s overwhelming.”

Pector, 22, said he and many of his friends believe UI administrators, faculty, staff, and students need to focus on widespread systemic change to make a real difference on campus. That doesn’t happen when a majority of constituents don’t believe or acknowledge the problem, he said.

“They don’t seem to care until something horrible happens,” Pector said. “But these aren’t happening out of nowhere … This is hate all over the place.”

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