Metzger: The price of my life is $4,021

Columnist Logan Metzger argues Iowa State does not uphold their own Principles of Community, sacrificing the mental health and well-being of their students. 

Logan Metzger

Iowa State University loves to preach their Principles of Community, but in my experience, the university doesn’t seem to care about them.

One of these principles is “Freedom from Discrimination,” however, there seems to be plenty proof to the contrary at this institution of learning. I mean really, all you have to do is look on most of the doors in the residence halls where the swastikas are carved.

We have not even made it a month into the year 2021 and white supremacy has already reared its ugly head on this campus. According to the Campus Climate website, a “swastika drawn on the wall in a hallway” of Friley Hall was reported on the 25th, but did the university report this information to the rest of campus? Did the university publish a statement? Did the university step up to condemn white supremacy in this instance? No, it didn’t.

Actually, this is not the first time the university has decided to keep its lips sealed about white supremacy in the good year of 2021; take the siege of the United States Capitol for example.

At least 25 other public institutions from across the country condemned the Capitol attack, but what did Iowa State University do? Nothing. Tight lips and covered eyes, because how can we condemn white supremacy elsewhere when we can’t even control it here.

Just look back at 2020 where there were four other instances where either a swastika or other Nazi imagery was found across campus. And to make it even “better,” there were 15 other reports made on the Campus Climate website in 2020, ranging from spoken racial slurs to written messages of hate against members of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

However, these are just the instances reported to the university, meaning there may have been many other instances of hate and discrimination happening on Iowa State’s campus that the general public will never know about, because most students have no incentive to actually report the things happening to them.

I have personally reported multiple instances of discrimination I have faced and what did I get out of it? Nothing. Did I feel better after it? No. Did I receive the help I needed? Not at all. Did the people doing the discrimination face any consequences? No. 

Though I did receive a very lengthy email from the university telling me they were sorry I felt discriminated against, they however said they could do nothing about it because free speech was more important than my feelings of safety. Free speech was more important than my ability to complete my classwork properly. Free speech was more important than my mental health. 

No the university didn’t use those exact words, because they used more flowery language instead. But even if they didn’t say those exact words to me, that is how I read them, because I know that my life will always be worth less to them than the free speech of another.

Oh, but it also goes well beyond just my life, because even when more than 750 people signed a letter to Iowa State University asking the university to take action because those 750 individuals were literally scared for their lives, the university decided free speech was more important.

The university decided the free speech of one student group calling for others to “arm up” was more important than the safety, mental health and ability to complete coursework of 750 other individuals. If that is not a university supporting white supremacy, I don’t know what is. 

The entirety of the university’s response to the 750 individuals was not condemning the actions of the student group or explaining that the 750 individuals were valued, no, the letter was the university explaining that it would not be taking action because “we live in a divisive time.” Oh, but wait, they did add one sentence in the last paragraph stating that the “well-being of our campus community is one of our highest priorities,” so obviously that makes it all better right? Not at all.

You remember how I started this column talking about how the university loves to preach about the Principles of Community? Yeah, well, according to the letter, they are just empty words meant to look like action because “while the Principles of Community are ideals to which we should all aspire, they are neither laws nor policy, and are not enforceable.”

And even after all of that went down, the university published a statement supporting the First Amendment, because they believe all information should be “expressed and debated,” including the “bigoted, hateful, racist, and anti-Semitic messaging.” Yes in that statement the university said that that messaging was “hurtful and harmful to many students,” but once again that was only one part of a sentence out of the entire statement.

These statements from the university set a clear precedent that the mental and physical health of marginalized individuals at Iowa State University currently come second and will always come second to the freedom for their student organizations to post information that is not “illegal discrimination and harassment.” 

Yes, Iowa State University, a place that strives for and is proud of its diversity must clarify which type of discrimination it will act upon because only certain people are worthy of receiving the university’s help.

Yes, Wendy Wintersteen, president of Iowa State University, has made a few statements condemning white supremacy, racism and bigotry at Iowa State, but that is not enough. It always comes in the form of a small apology, and then a reference to the Principles of Community she cannot enforce, and then links to ISU Police and Student Counseling Services.

Student Counseling Services and ISU Police are not the answers I am seeking when I hear about another swastika appearing in a dorm or when I hear a racial slur. If I wanted therapy, I would have gone to counseling on my own, if I wanted to be told that my fears were “not all too alarming” I would have gone to ISU Police. Oh, did you not remember the ISU Police officer telling the Iowa State Daily editor that a student organization wanting people to “arm up” was not a serious threat? That’s because it’s not surprising on this campus.

Iowa State University, you need to stop being reactionary, because when you allow white supremacy on your campus, when you allow swastikas, when you allow students to tell others to “arm up,” it won’t be long before the harm is more than “hurt feelings” or “just mental health,” it’ll be physical harm. Physical harm when a student takes their own life to escape the constant harassment and discrimination. Physical harm when “arm up” is taken seriously.

Your students feel unsafe, I feel unsafe, is my life worth anything to you? Well I guess according to my tuition statement it’s about $4,021 a semester.