In the wake of a divisive presidential election that’s fueled days of protests and reports of hateful speech, campus leaders are urging inclusion and respect.
“Every member of our community (and beyond) needs to know that the University of Iowa is, and always will be, committed to providing an inclusive, welcoming environment for all,” said a message to the campus Monday evening from UI President Bruce Harreld and Provost Barry Butler. “Inclusiveness has been our hallmark — and our strength — for more than a century, and that will not change.”
The message said that faculty, staff and students have told of “concerns about the campus climate” following last week’s election of Donald Trump as president.
“Many have expressed heightened fear about the possibility of acts of aggression or intimidation toward certain groups within our community,” according to the UI leaders’ message.
A report of a racist remark found scrawled on a door in Burge Residence Hall early Nov. 9 — hours after Trump’s victory — fueled those fears, officials said. Shortly before the election, fliers with white supremacist messages were found on and near the UI campus — including outside the Latino, Native American, LGTBQ Resource and Afro-American cultural centers.
Iowa State University reported Oct. 27 finding similar posters depicting “historical references or messages that could evoke feelings of bias or racism” in about 20 locations across campus. And “white heritage” posters again turned up on the ISU campus after the election.
Several students reported being called racial slurs on election night, ISU Student Body President Cole Staudt said.
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“I also attended an event hosted in the Multicultural Center on Wednesday where students and staff shared stories of walking down the street and having ‘make American great again,’ ‘build that wall,’ and ‘go back to your country’ yelled at them,” Staudt said.
In a message last month, ISU President Steven Leath said the institution defends the right to free speech.
“However, attacks directed at any individual or group are inconsistent with the principles of the Iowa State community: respect, purpose, cooperation, richness of diversity, freedom from discrimination, and the honest and respectful expression of ideas,” according to the message.
The UI message from Harreld and Butler this week similarly vowed to uphold academic freedom and free speech, but also asked people to “remember that each of us has a responsibility to uphold our shared values of compassion, inclusion, respect, and dignity.”
UI Student Government President Rachel Zuckerman said she thinks the campus will get back there. But it will take time, she said.
“Conservatives and liberals feel attacked,” she said. “It’s tense, but I think slowly but surely we are getting to a place where we can reunify and be a community once again.”
On a largely liberal campus in the heart of one of six Iowa counties that went for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Zuckerman said she’s heard from a lot of students in mourning over the result of the election.
University Counseling Services has been holding group discussions and UI officials have directed students who say they need support to entities like the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment, the Women’s Resource and Action Center and the Office for Graduate Inclusion.
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Zuckerman said those smaller group discussions have been a good way for students to process the election.
“People are somewhat fearful,” she said. “But there’s a lot of misunderstanding on all sides.”
The UI College Republicans also are feeling attacked, Zuckerman said.
“Our conservative students feel highly misunderstood,” she said.
ISU student government leaders announced plans Tuesday to hold a 7 p.m. Nov. 29 town hall meeting to “address racist and unacceptable acts targeted at students.”
The University of Northern Iowa has held “listening and sharing drop-in sessions” for students, faculty and staff.
UNI Student Government leaders issued a statement reminding people on campus to “treat each other with respect, remain involved and informed about what’s happening in the political sphere, and focus on moving forward together.”