The university reacts to the outcries of minorities and works on a more welcoming environment on campus
IOWA CITY, Iowa. Race, stereotyping, and microagressions are issues seen everywhere from the media to one’s daily life. Minorities at the University of Iowa recently opened up about times where they felt attacked, unwanted, and misunderstood. With the growing rate of the student body and the increase in minorities on campus, the university has recognized these issues, and is working to not only bring awareness to the situation, but to stop the hate all together.
“Our goal is to build community,” said Kyra Seay, the Communications Coordinator for the Chief of Diversity on campus. Seay explained how the university’s students sometimes do not realize the underlying negativity that comes with a microagression. “Microagressions come up in everyday conversation, and at face value can seem innocent. Say for instance, you ask someone of Asian descent, ‘where are you from?’, and that student replies, ‘I’m from California!”. The student then goes on to ask, ‘no, where are you really from?”. What is that saying about the individual?” Seay explained how acts like this can make minorities feel targeted, and as if they do not belong.
Listen below as Kyra Seay, the Communications Coordinator for the Chief of Diversity Office for the University of Iowa, shares the importance of an inclusive and welcoming environment on campus.
For Kyra Seay’s biography, click here. https://diversity.uiowa.edu/people/kyra-seay
Being that some in-state students come from small rural towns in Iowa, there is a large racial gap. Some students have never encountered an individual of a different race or ethnicity. Adora Davis, a sophomore at the university, has felt targeted by those who do not understand the underlying negative tone their comments carry. “Micro-aggressions are the things like asking if my hair is real, if you can touch it, asking how my hair is longer than theirs, assuming because I’m black and my hair isn’t supposed to grow,” Davis said. “When my white friends think that it’s fine to say the n-word around me because we’re ‘close enough’.”
Jonathan Chang, a sophomore at the university, shared how informing the aggressor can help both individuals in the situation. “The majority of my experiences with stereotypes and microagressions is me being overly sensitive and impatient. If I had educated my offender, then the problem would be resolved and we both walk away better people.” Chang also added that educating this campus is the first step.
This school year is not the first time that the university has dealt with issues of racism. During the 2014-2015 school year, Serhat Tanyolacar, an artist and visiting professor at the university, placed a statue in the form of a Klu Klux Klan member in the middle of the Pentacrest. Anthonie Perla, a senior at the University of Iowa, recalled the events of that day. “I was eating with some friends at Burge [dining hall], and we got a text saying that there was a KKK statue on the Pentacrest. We left our food, and ran to see it.” Perla, who has been a victim of Klan activities in his hometown of Houston, TX, was terrified. “I didn’t know what to do.” This art piece scared many of the students on campus. Although the artist’s point was to show that racism still exists, he was greatly criticized because for the work.
The Press Citizen covered this story back in 2014. Click Below.
In the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, a string of racist comments surfaced about Asian students and teacher’s assistants on the app “Yik Yak”, which is designed for sharing thoughts anonymously with individuals in a certain mile radius. Therefore, there is a space on the app specifically for Iowa City. The posts belittled Asian students by stereotyping them and telling them to “go back to where they came from”. Kiki Shi, a senior at the university, says that she has personally felt attacked by these comments. “Usually people would think my English is not good, and would not really want to talk to me. They give me no chance to let me talk. I just feel like it is kind of unfair and I am being stereotyped.”
So what can be done to combat this prominent issue on the University of Iowa campus? The On Iowa! Program, which helps to transition first year students into college, hosts many events and workshops throughout the week before school. One of the workshops focuses on how to combat racism, sexism, homophobia, and other issues that may arise on campus. “The issues are very common problems on campus. They are things that we can’t ignore,” said Lexi Speer, a Captain Peer Leader for the On Iowa! Program. Speer also explained how the training shows how one can intervene in a situation that can be potentially harmful to someone else. “This [training] encourages students to help each other in a time of need,” said Speer.
Student organizations are also aiding in the fight to end hate on this campus. Tristan Schmidt, the Event Coordinating Chair for Herky Cares, shared that the campaign is doing its best to make a more welcoming environment on campus. The social justice organization offers training for the resident’s assistants, who oversee students in the Living and Learning Communities within the residence halls. “We have specific Hate Free Zone trainings tailored to address things like microaggressions, specifically by asking participants, if willing and comfortable, to share stories of a time when someone used a microaggresion on them. Through these shared experiences we gain a greater sense of empathy and understanding.”
For more information about Herky Cares, click here: https://herkycares.org.uiowa.edu/
Understanding the importance of a welcoming environment is what the university is striving for. “It is important to be inclusive on campus because everyone deserves the right to be themselves and people should not exclude someone based on any identities they hold, whether it be something from skin color to immigration status to sexual orientation,” Said Schmidt. “There is a whole list of identities we hold and they make us who we are. They make us unique.”
Educating both the staff and students on these issues will be a start to making a change. “We will be better off in the world when we realize that there are folks that are not like you.” Said Kyra Seay. “Everyone deserves a seat at the table.”