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University of Iowa police: No students said they saw 'racist remark'

'This act is offensive,' Harreld said in statement

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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa police have not heard that any students saw the “racist remark” found carved into a bathroom door in Spence Laboratories.

And, other than a few individual conversations, Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Georgina Dodge said her office has not been meeting with students about the incident.

“Nor have students been in contact with us,” she told The Gazette in an email.

A UI staff member on Monday morning found the epithet in the laboratories for psychology — which have been targeted by vandals and activists in the past — and that person called UI police to report it at 10:17 a.m., according to Dave Visin, interim assistant vice president and director of UI Public Safety.

Investigators responded to the lab at 308 East Iowa Ave., documented the details, and maintenance crews “immediately” sanded down the door to remove the damage, officials said. Visin would not disclose details about the nature of the remark to avoid compromising the investigation.

He said the building never was closed to students, although maintenance crews might have closed the restroom while they worked on the door, Visin said.

The department is not discussing when they think the vandalism occurred “to protect the integrity of the investigation.” And Visin declined to say whether the department has any suspects.

He said the building, which houses research laboratories and faculty offices, is open to the public at certain times during the day. But Visin didn’t disclose whether video cameras are mounted in areas that might have captured the perpetrator in the act.

The university has not received any related threats or found any similar vandalism on campus, according to Visin. And UI President Bruce Harreld issued a statement Monday night decrying the act.

“This act is offensive to our community and will not be tolerated,” Harreld said in the statement. “An investigation is underway, and if the individual(s) responsible are identified, appropriate actions will be taken.”

Harreld told The Gazette he learned of the incident Monday afternoon and it took him “about a minute” to decide to issue a statement notifying the community of the vandalism and condemning the act.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Jodie Plumert, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, also denounced the epithet.

“I join with President Harreld in condemning this cowardly and hateful message,” she said in a statement. “I am profoundly disappointed that someone would leave this racist message in our building and agree that such actions will not be tolerated in our community.”

The incident comes amid swelling concerns nationally about racism on college campuses — with minority students from the University of Missouri to Yale University to the University of California-Los Angeles saying they often feel unwelcome or even unsafe on campus.

Student protests in November prompted the head of the University of Missouri system to resign amid complaints he responded slowly and poorly to incidents of racism on campus.

The University of Iowa nearly one year ago found itself in the middle of its own race-related firestorm after a visiting professor erected on the Pentacrest a 7-foot-tall statue created in the likeness of a Ku Klux Klansmen. The statue was robed in print screenings of newspaper articles depicting racist incidents in U.S. history, and the artist said it was meant to make a statement against racism, but black students said they felt afraid and offended and demanded a response from the UI administration.

Former UI President Sally Mason offered an apology for the display, drawing the ire of some proponents of free speech, and — in the days that followed — she created the President’s Black Student Advisory Committee charged with “helping to create an environment that is aware and understanding of cultural differences that are present in Iowa, specifically black culture.”

Jasmin Mangrum, committee co-chair, said in a statement at the time that the group hopes to “ensure that black students can achieve greatness here at Iowa, and not be hindered because of their race or background.”

“I believe that there are issues present, and the best way to start resolving those issues is to hear people’s concerns and to find effective ways to create an environment that is culturally competent,” Mangrum said in a statement.

Vice President Dodge on Tuesday told The Gazette the black student committee has several projects in the pipeline, and it’s working with UI Student Government leaders “on some of the issues raised regarding funding of student organizations.”

The UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment also last month hosted three daily lunchtime conversations with black students, and Dodge said officials are collecting notes and prioritizing actions they plan to unveil after the winter break.

Spence Laboratories made the news in November 2004 when vandals broke into the animal research portion of the building, stealing hundreds of laboratory animals and trashing equipment. Total cost of the vandalism neared $500,000, UI officials reported at the time.

The Animal Liberation Front took responsibility for the attack, and faculty members in the psychology department at the time called for additional security measures in the building. They asked a private security consultant to advise on what security measures — including alarms, cameras, and motion detectors — should be added.

The university at the time said Spence Labs did not have alarms, video surveillance, or motion detectors, but Visin on Tuesday declined to provide details around the security that exists in the building today.

Anyone with information related to this week’s racist epithet is asked to call UI police at 319-335-5022.

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