Education

Iowa State students call out administrators as investigations into racism accumulate

'Each day you do nothing, white supremacy spreads at ISU'

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (The Gazette)

Iowa State University administrators said Wednesday they’re looking into new reports of a swastika etched on a residence hall door and racist stickers and posters on campus light poles and bus stop signs.

“We want to again emphasize that we denounce racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and all bigoted rhetoric and actions,” ISU President Wendy Wintersteen and ISU Police Chief Michael Newton said in a statement. “We are appalled that people continue to spread hate on our campus.”

The racist vandalism, stickers and posters — which officials said have been removed — follow weeks of incidents across the Ames campus, prompting protests that blocked traffic, occupied Wintersteen’s office and culminated in community meetings on climate and diversity issues.

In response to slurs scrawled in a residence hall, neo-Nazi chalkings and a student government adviser in black face — among other things — a new student group identifying as Students Against Racism in October submitted a list of 15 demands to administrators, starting with expulsion of students deemed responsible for the recent acts of hate and a shutdown of an ISU “Students for Trump club that attached neo-Nazi slogans to their political writings.”

Wintersteen, four ISU vice presidents and a university attorney on Nov. 7 responded with a list of commitments they vowed to take in response to those demands, and Wintersteen reported on that response during last week’s Board of Regents meeting.

She told the board her administration had produced and posted to its website the 11-point response to Students Against Racism, including seven commitments that involve some new form of student, faculty or staff training. Other points included a reiteration of the administration’s condemnation of racism, a commitment to create a new student advisory council and a promise to rename a climate response team “to better reflect its purpose.”

A final point vowed to explore changes to “greatly reduce or eliminate acts of vandalism in residence halls,” although it didn’t provide specifics.

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The ISU commitments didn’t address many of the demands from students, who called out administrators in a subsequent email thread involving the arrangement of a next meeting.

“We requested a second meeting to discuss the students’ demands,” according to the Nov. 19 email signed by Students Against Racism. “Therefore, the next meeting will be to address the students’ demands, not to receive an update on your actions — that quite frankly deserve no praise given they do not satisfy the demands to make our campus safe.”

In the administration’s Nov. 13 email to arrange a next meeting, ISU leadership thanked the students for meeting with them, attached its list of responses and suggested reconvening Jan. 27.

“We are curious, is there a specific reason for choosing to delay the meeting for so long?” the students wrote back. “Honestly, we understand that it is in your best interest to delay these conversations for as long as possible, but we are ready to meet at an earlier date.”

The students encouraged administrators to provide any updates on its progress at any Wednesday evening student government meeting.

“You understand that each day you do nothing, white supremacy spreads at ISU,” the students wrote. “As you know, some of us have received death threats.”

The administrative email also encouraged students to participate in a “Thomas L. Hill ISCORE Conference” in March, which Wintersteen promoted during her Board of Regents presentation. And it highlighted two upcoming campus lectures on the topic in late January.

The students took offense at that urging, according to their reply, even while acknowledging the value of those opportunities.

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“It is insulting that you would even share that with us,” the students wrote. “We do not need your encouragement, as we are not neo-Nazis or white-supremacists that spread hate throughout our community. Perhaps an email to those individuals would be more appropriate.”

In addition to Iowa State, the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa this fall have been faced with their own issues involving campus climate and diversity — with the UI struggling to retain a diversity director and UNI students calling out administrators for ignoring and mishandling their concerns.

On the Iowa State campus, acts of racism have continued in the days since the administration aired its commitments, including a threat of racially fueled violence on social media and this week’s vandalism and racist stickers and posters.

In Wintersteen and Newton’s communication regarding the new vandalism this week, they urged the campus community to “join us in condemning such views in accordance with our ‘Principles of Community,’” which include respect, purpose, cooperation, diversity, freedom from discrimination, and honest and respectful expression of ideas.

“Please continue to be vigilant and reach out to each other with care and support,” according to the message.

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

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