IOWA CITY — With at least nine U.S. cities bracing for far-right rallies this weekend after a widely-publicized event in Charlottesville turned violent and left three people dead, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld on Thursday sent a message to his returning campus community stressing tolerance.
“In the wake of racist violence on a university campus not unlike our own, it is incumbent upon us to reach out to those who are new to our community,” Harreld wrote in his morning message. “To tell them we denounce the KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups who use public universities as a backdrop for their violent theater. To assure them that we will not be bullied into silence or turned against one another. To pledge once again that we will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus for people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Iowa State University President Ben Allen and University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook sent messages to their campuses on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, denouncing the Charlottesville violence and behavior and recommitting themselves to creating an inclusive environment.
Harreld and UI executives earlier this week met individually with students in the diverse Iowa Edge program — along with others moving onto campus, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.
“They felt face-to-face meetings would provide more comfort and reassurance, as many new and returning members of our community are not yet engaged on email,” Beck said.
In his message Thursday morning, Harreld listed other challenges the university faces — increased competition, diminishing federal and state resources, rising tuition, shifting technology and questions about values.
“Coming here, I lauded our community’s creativity, collaboration, work ethic and willingness to speak forthrightly,” he wrote. “We must rely on these enduring qualities now as we face more persistent challenges: racism and bigotry.”
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The University of Iowa, along with Iowa State and UNI, in the last school year, tackled a handful of complaints about racist speech and vandalism on campus. And Iowa State University, already this week, responded to a “racist social media post” on Snapchat in which three students pose by the “Black Engineering Building” with the comment “(expletives) only.”
Martino Harmon, ISU senior vice president for student affairs, issued a written response Wednesday calling the slur-containing post “racist, thoughtless and hurtful.”
“It was particularly troubling in light of the recent occurrences in Charlottesville and is further evidence of a continuing need to fight racist attitudes from all sources,” according to Harmon’s statement. “We are clearly not where we need to be. This in no way reflects the attitudes or values of Iowa State University and is counter to the climate we are attempting to build.”
Iowa State, according to that statement, is working to improve its new student onboarding to address campus climate issues. Harreld, likewise, called on those across the UI campus to demonstrate the school’s values “to the newest members of our community.”
“This is a community that values the First Amendment and freedom of expression,” Harreld wrote in his message. “We vigorously debate literature, philosophy and scientific interpretations all while forging lifelong friendships. Civil discourse and the respectful exchange of ideas are the cornerstones of higher education and this great institution. But these ideals are incompatible with hate and can be fully realized only when all members of our community are valued and supported.”
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