Education

University of Iowa condemns 'racist' comment from sorority member

'We are taking immediate action,' university says

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa administrators are calling on its fraternity and sorority chapter presidents to “deliver a strong message of the values fraternity and sorority life hold” after a member of the UI Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority made a reference to the Ku Klux Klan posted over the weekend on Instagram.

“We are writing to emphasize the comment made by this individual was unacceptable, and the Panhellenic community does not stand for this,” said a message from UI Panhellenic President Elah Shulruff and UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers.

UI officials did not disclose details of what the sorority member wrote. But screenshots of the images circulated on social media show a group of girls dressed in white and a comment, “Join the KKK.” A follow-up comment from the same person reads, “I mean join the KKG,” a reference to the sorority.

In a second screengrab being circulated online, the person — in what appears to be a private message to someone — tried to “clear things up.”

“I saw that you screenshotted my comment and sent it to our kappa instagram,” she wrote. “I never meant it in an offensive way nor ever meant it to be screenshotted and took it like that. It was a complete joke but now I can get in huge trouble and so can our whole sorority.”

The person associated with that Instagram account has disabled her page. In other online posts and websites, she’s identified as a Kappa Kappa Gamma sister.

In a separate statement from the Panhellenic Council, leadership disavowed the comment and the “racist ideology” it promoted.

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“We are taking immediate action to ensure this situation is addressed,” according to the statement.

In response to questions from The Gazette about what specific action has been taken, UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce said the incident was reported to Kappa Kappa Gamma representatives. Additionally, a report was filed with the Office of Student Accountability.

Bruce, citing student privacy laws, said the office does not publicly share details of whether any disciplinary action was taken in a specific student’s case.

A subsequent statement from Kappa Kappa Gamma did not characterize the comment as espousing racist ideology, but rather referred to “an individual using insensitive language on social media.”

The UI’s Beta Zeta Chapter — along with its larger Kappa Kappa Gamma leadership — “strongly condemns this type of behavior,” according to the statement.

UI officials and Fraternity and Sorority Life leadership did not answer questions about what specifically they’re doing to educate about diversity or what changes they’re considering in member orientation.

Fraternity and Sorority Life annually holds a “social responsibility week” at the end of September during which fraternity and sorority members attend programs and events focused on “risk-related education and prevention.”

The university also produces a “score card” for its affiliated fraternities and sororities every semester, reporting — among other things — membership totals, demographics, service hours, philanthropy, average GPA, alcohol arrests and what percentage of membership attended educational programming.

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Iowa’s Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter — founded in 1882 — in the spring semester was among the campus’ biggest sororities, reporting 170 members, second only to Chi Omega at 179 and Kappa Alpha Theta at 175, according to the score card.

Kappa Kappa Gamma’s membership is 89 percent white — which puts its racial makeup on par with all other Panhellenic groups at the UI, which reported percentages in the 80s or 90s.

Diversity and equity became hot topics on campus after the university last April unveiled findings from its first-ever comprehensive climate surveys of students, faculty and staff. Those findings revealed a wide variation in the campus experience depending on race, sexual orientation, political orientation, religious affiliation and socioeconomic status.

The university also has experienced turmoil atop its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion division, with two years of interim leadership before hiring TaJuan Wilson over the summer. Wilson, though, abruptly resigned after just six weeks on the job, only to take a temporary assignment for the UI while he job hunts again.

And last week, UI officials learned of racist or inappropriate graffiti on a dry erase board in a campus library and made sure it was removed, according to Bruce. Officials did not issue any additional information about the graffiti or notify the campus.

Bruce, in a statement, encouraged students to report racist or inappropriate graffiti and said the university is investigating this recent incident. Bruce, though, said campus police don’t have any reports so far on the incident.

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

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