Higher education

University of Iowa investigating racist vandalism

Students working through 'tough emotions and experiences'

Students gather on the University of Iowa Pentacrest Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 to protest the results of the presidential election and the racial rhetoric used during the campaign. (Vanessa Miller, The Gazette)
Students gather on the University of Iowa Pentacrest Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 to protest the results of the presidential election and the racial rhetoric used during the campaign. (Vanessa Miller, The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa police Wednesday morning launched an investigation into a racist remark found scrawled on a student’s door in Burge Residence Hall.

The message — reported in the early morning hours — comes just weeks after offensive fliers with white supremacist messages were discovered on or around the campus’ Latino, Native American, LGTBQ Resource, and Afro-American cultural centers.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, UI Student Government leaders spent hours writing messages of hope, love and encouragement and disseminating them across campus for those “who might be having some tough emotions and experiences with what’s going on in our country,” said UISG President Rachel Zuckerman.

“That can trickle down to our campus,” she said. “We feel that it’s very important to reaffirm our community expectations at a time when we feel the country might have spoken out against that.”

Few details about Wednesday’s vandalism were made public, although Zuckerman said it referenced a specific identity and was racist.

“It was put on someone’s door, so it was pretty targeted,” she said.

UI administrators and leaders — including UI President Bruce Harreld, Provost Barry Butler and Dean of Students Lyn Redington — issued a statement condemning the act.

“Hate speech does not reflect the values of our institution and will not be tolerated,” it read. “We are a caring community that values compassion, inclusion, respect and dignity. This is a time to come together in support of one another, remaining respectful in dialogue across our differences.”

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UI Student Government last month publicly denounced what it said was an increase in racist messaging on campus.

Zuckerman months ago reported finding anti-Semitic fliers in Iowa City. Similarly offensive fliers with white supremacist messages were discovered around the cultural centers on Oct. 10. And then weeks later someone shredded an LGTBQ bulletin board in a residence hall and replaced it with the supremacist fliers.

“I’m heartbroken that people continue to be targeted in a place they’re supposed to call home,” Zuckerman said. “College is tough, and if you’re not confident that you can go back to a resident hall and have it be safe, that’s highly concerning for me.”

She said student leaders met Wednesday to discuss the issue. Zuckerman stressed they believe actions speak louder than words and in the importance of listening.

“We want those most affected to tell us what they need,” she said.

What Zuckerman heard on Wednesday was a call for support and solidarity.

“They need students who might not be personally impacted by decisions being made in our country to be allies,” she said. “Because we can’t do it on our own.”

What that means in terms of action, Zuckerman said, remains to be seen. More than 100 students rallied on the UI Pentacrest Wednesday against the national election of Donald Trump as president.

“I heard a voice of America last night that I did not recognize,” UI freshman Dante Benjegerdes shouted during the rally.

Students waived signs that read, “I won’t comply,” “Nasty woman,” and “You are loved.” They chanted, “Love trumps hate,” and turned toward the downtown at one point to collectively scream in “rage.”

UISG created a social media event calling for students on Thursday to wear purple for unity.

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“We are encouraging people to move past red and blue and move instead into how we rebuild as a community,” Zuckerman said. “Because, at the end of the day, we need the students who live these identities on our campuses to have better experiences.”

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