Martin Hall racist drawing: has anything changed?


Courtesy of Rich Stevens/Iowa State Daily

Martin Hall residents responded to a racist whiteboard drawing discovered in the residence hall.

Claire Hoppe

It has now been over two months since a racist whiteboard drawing in Martin Hall was discovered. But the question remains- has anything changed in Martin Hall in light of the incident?

According to Zachary Komanapalli, a freshman in aerospace engineering at Iowa State and resident of Martin Hall, while there have been small changes, the problem still remains at large.

Komanapalli said the drawing was found on a whiteboard in Starbuck House in early October.

“Some of my peers in the hall had talked about how one of the drawings was defaced to depict a KKK rally crucifying a Black man and that being symbolic of a colored in Among Us character to be completely Black with the words #whitesupremacy written on the board,” Komanapalli said.

Other Martin Hall residents declined to discuss the incident. 

Komanapalli said that floor resident advisers were contacted immediately after the drawing was discovered, and a full investigation was launched. The investigation included contacting Joseph Ballard II, the director of diversity, equity and inclusion for campus life, and the Iowa State University Police Department.

According to Ballard, after meeting with the impacted party of individuals, he made an incident report and contacted the leadership members from the Department of Residence. Ballard said that while he worked to support the impacted party of individuals, the ISUPD focused on determining who was responsible for drawing the racist image.

According to Michael Newton, the chief of police, the incident resulted in no criminal case.

“We did receive a report from a third party on this,” Newton said. “The whiteboard had been erased before police were contacted. It was documented and determined there was not a criminal case. The team from the Department of Residence followed protocol by alerting us to review, and they are working with those impacted.”

The Department of Residences’ statement echoed Newton on not being able to control the actions of individuals that may or may not result in criminal cases.

“Unfortunately, we cannot prevent individuals from inserting reprehensible imagery into the public square, but whenever such acts occur, we will signal clearly where we stand and remain fully committed to working with like-minded community members to direct their talents, skills and abilities toward the creation of living learning communities that afford each student a place of safety and support as they pursue their personal and professional goals,” the statement said.

A first article titled “Racist whiteboard drawing shakes Martin Hall” was published by the Iowa State Daily on Oct. 31. Komanapalli said the incident and the article created a buzz in Martin Hall, and the residents began to consider what had happened on the whiteboard in Starbuck House’s den.

“I think we had a good week after [the incident] that we talked [about it],” Komanapalli said. “And then when it came back up as an article, then there was another little bit of conversation to be had about it…. the conversation keeps up for a little bit, and then it kind of dies.”

This begs the question- will racist incidents only be discussed for a week, and then everyone moves on with their lives without any major changes being made? Komanapalli said that for an incident this size, where no party was physically hurt, this might be the reality.

“And what we see very often when we have events like this, even the ones that are a little more major, in campuses, or even if you want to go look [at] the national level, you see periods of conversation, activism and then it kind of winds down,” Komanapalli said. “And I think maybe that speaks to…. the culture we kind of have as a society towards being complacent to that, towards just wanting to maintain the status quo.”

While this outcome may seem grim, Komanapalli said that he has noticed a small shift in the culture of Martin Hall and its current residents. He specifically discussed how incidents like this have been chalked up to being “humorful” in the past.

“As for the Martin Hall residents, one thing I will say is that the “humor” that was on that board back in October, is more commonly in our cultures. It’s more oral, like it’s something that people just say to each other sort of as uncomfortable jokes, usually around closer acquaintances,” Komanapalli said.

He said these incidents have gone from being called funny to bringing awareness within the Martin community.

“But there definitely have been, on an individual level, at least a little bit more consciousness towards what topics are being discussed,” Komanapalli said. “I know with me…. there’s an extra level of heightened awareness that has to be taken.”

Komanapalli went on to say that even while the investigation on the drawing was underway, he never felt unsafe in Martin Hall. He credits this to knowing the investigation discovered that the perpetrators were likely guests let into Martin Hall by other current residents. Furthermore, he said he feels a sense of security and inclusivity among his group of friends in Martin Hall.

“We always have a very inclusive community,” Komanapalli said. “That’s actually one of the reasons why it’s important for me to talk about the situation in the first place.”

According to Komanapalli, a racist incident in a very inclusive environment shows the greater problem at hand- that racism exists everywhere.

“It does show that in communities that are very inclusive, these are still things that happen,” Komanapalli said. “And that doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on that community. That disputes the broader volume of how embedded, how systemic that problem is. It’s everywhere. So treating it like it’s an issue with the southern states or rural areas. It’s a false characterization that actually there’s a lot of harm because then we don’t focus on how it happens a lot in these communities that are very diverse and are very inclusive and have all these initiatives.”

Komanapalli continued to state that if people do not realize that racism can exist in inclusive and diverse communities and spaces, complacency will continue to thrive and change will not happen.

In order to combat this problem, Komanapalli said that action on societal and political levels needs to be taken immediately after an incident of this kind occurs.

“We should strive to [change] when the public momentum is there. It’s great when we make strides for greater diversity, greater representation just on the whole, but it’s even more impactful when it happens during times when everybody’s galvanizing,” Komanapalli said. “Because otherwise, you know, it gets drowned out. We don’t think about it.”

Komanapalli said that as busy college students, it is easy to forget about such incidents without making great changes, but this needs to stop.

“I guess it really speaks more to how whenever we do things like this, we should actually have hard change that’s made at the legislative level or at the policy level,” Komanapalli said. “So that way we can actually try and ingrain that [positive change] in while there’s momentum still there.”