Education

Iowa universities condemn George Floyd killing

This is 'the latest example of law enforcement failing to follow through on their oath to protect and serve': UI provost, vice president

Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen addresses the Cedar Rapids downtown Rotary luncheon at the DoubleTree
Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen addresses the Cedar Rapids downtown Rotary luncheon at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — As hotbeds of racial tensions in recent months and years — culminating in, among many other things, protests that blocked streets near Iowa State’s campus in the fall and shut down a Board of Regents meeting in February — Iowa’s public universities over the weekend issued statements about the “appalling tragedy” of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

“We condemn this killing and the underlying culture of racism and violence that led to it,” according to a Saturday message from Brooks Jackson, University of Iowa Health Care vice president for medical affairs and dean of its Carver College of Medicine.

Jackson came to Iowa in 2017 from Minneapolis, where he led the University of Minnesota Medical School and chaired the university’s health board of directors and physicians board.

“As a health institution, our mission is to bring hope and healing,” Jackson said in his statement. “The very foundation of that mission must be to provide an environment of safety, fairness, dignity and respect for all. UI Health Care is committed to be a diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution that honors and uplifts all students, faculty, staff, patients, and our community.”

UI Provost Montse Fuentes and Vice President for Student Life Sarah Hansen the night before shared a statement via Twitter and Instagram condemning Floyd’s death “at the hands of police officers.”

“The killing of George Floyd is the latest example of law enforcement failing to follow through on their oath to protect and serve, and we stand with our community to voice our outrage,” according to the pair’s message. “No one should feel that their race or any aspect of their identity makes them a target.

“This kind of violence is unacceptable and must be denounced by the entire community. We will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus for people of all backgrounds.”

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UI President Bruce Harreld on Sunday sent a message acknowledging, “This is not a new phenomenon and the black community is, we are sure, exhausted from the constant trauma and pain of being the recipients of mistreatment by those who are tasked with serving and protecting communities — the police.

“There is also disappointment, frustration, and pain due to the continued disproportionate police brutality against people of color, specifically the black community,” Harreld wrote in his message. “These inequalities manifest themselves economically and socially. No one should feel their race or any aspect of their identity makes them a target for violence.”

Harreld in his message said his campus is updating its diversity, equity, and inclusion action plan — with more details coming this week.

“Addressing inequality requires changing hearts, minds, and systems, and the University of Iowa will continue to work toward that goal through actions,” he wrote.

Many cities have witnessed rallies, protests and late-night chaos in recent days over Floyd’s death. That includes rallies in Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, Iowa State’s community of Ames, and cities near the University of Northern Iowa, such as Cedar Falls and Waterloo.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen on Friday issued a campuswide message expressing outrage.

“There is no justification for racism and brutality — ever — and especially not within the ranks of our public servants,” she wrote. “The hurt and pain of this reverberates throughout communities across our country, including among our Iowa State community, and it is understandable that all eyes turn toward their local police departments for answers.”

Wintersteen noted “racial intelligence and bias training” the ISU Police Department mandates, and touted professionalism the department has exhibited under Chief Michael Newton.

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“Tragedies like this must end,” she wrote in the message. Wintersteen in the fall issued multiple messages about racist incidents on her campus and ways the administration was addressing them.

“My leadership team and I condemn racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” Wintersteen wrote in a November message outlining a list of actions her administration was taking.

“Bigoted messages and conduct are abhorrent and inconsistent with our personal values, ISU’s Principles of Community and the values we expect on our campus,” she wrote, referring to a series of racist vandalism, stickers and social media threats on or affecting the campus.

The Univesity of Notherern Iowa in the fall faced its own race-relations storm — prompting President Mark Nook to issue a statement that included a “vision for a more welcoming and inclusive campus.”

Nook on Monday delivered a campuswide statement affirming, “Our university values black lives.”

“What happened to George Floyd, and continues happening to black men and women across our nation, is horrifying and unacceptable,” he wrote. “Following the death of Mr. Floyd, we must recognize that our black students and colleagues are hurting, and many may be coming back to work or their studies feeling traumatized and unsafe.”

And Nook vowed, “We stand firmly against the harm and injustice black men and women continue to face. And we are committed to addressing systemic racism through our work.”

In February, a group of student activists from across Iowa’s three public universities crowded into a Board of Regents meeting in Urbandale protesting — among other issues — disparate treatment of minority students and tuition increases, which they said were hitting them harder and propelling more acts of hate. Those students, refusing to leave, shut down the meeting, forcing regents to reconvene or bump issues they planned to address to a later date.

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“You sit by and do nothing while we, your students, are attacked by white supremacists and the administrations who don’t care about the true cost of raising tuition every year,” one student shouted. “The multiyear tuition model is killing us.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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