Slurred Lines: students, university officials respond to racism on campus


Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

Malik Burton, junior in speech communication and president of Black Student Alliance, poses a question during the NAACP community discussion Nov. 1 in Carver Hall. The event gave students the opportunity to address concerns about the posters containing white heritage messages Oct. 27. 

Mary Pautsch

Iowa State strives to be a welcoming community for everyone, but in light of recent events, some student groups feel as though that may be compromised.

Last Tuesday, an incoming freshman in the College of Engineering took a photo with some friends outside of the Black Engineering Building.

A racial slur was posted in the caption of the photo and submitted to Snapchat, as what the student claimed was a joke.

Initially, students and athletes took to social media to condemn the actions of the freshman. Malik Burton, president of the Black Student Alliance at Iowa State, posted a screenshot of the post on Facebook, along with the student’s Twitter page.

Burton said that the post was “not okay” and “will not be accepted going into this school year.”

“This is something we see at Iowa State daily,” he said. “Whether it be you’re out on Welch trying to have a good time, or heading to Kum & Go for a snack and getting called the N-word, going to class called the N-word, it becomes really annoying.”

Burton explained the history of this specific derogatory word, and why it’s continued use in today’s society hinders the success of black Americans.

“Historically, that word has a very derogatory meaning towards African and African American individuals,” he said. “Throughout the civil rights movement, being called that word, going to class being called that word, that word really stopped us from being accepted.”

Burton said he does not believe that white individuals are aware of how much weight those slurs toward people of color carry.

“People may use it as a joke, but they do still know that that word should not be used,” said Burton. “You may not know what language you should use, but you definitely know what language you shouldn’t use.”

This is not the first time Iowa State has seen a display of what many consider racism on campus. In 2016, two occurrences of “white heritage” posters were hung around the university.

The posters proclaimed things such as “In 1950 America was 90 percent white, it is now only 60 percent white. Will you become a minority in your own country?”

To Sarahi Trejo, president of Latinx Student Initiatives, events such as these make it harder to trust her peers both on and off campus. She says it makes her and others who identify within a marginalized group, anxious to meet new people. 

“When an event like the poster incident months ago, another incident will happen, and then another, and it keeps happening,” said Trejo. “It makes you think they don’t want people of color here.”

Trejo and Burton both say that repercussions need to be in place so students know that this behavior is not tolerated within the ISU community.

“When it comes to incidents like this, I will say that I do believe there should be repercussions,” Burton said. “And more than that, I feel like they should be education based … students shouldn’t get away scot-free.”

If this were black students’ or Muslim students’ actions, Trejo believed something would have already been done, she said. 

“The main thing is that I hope that something happens and that the university realizes that they do have a problem,” said Trejo. 

Iowa State Interim President Benjamin Allen told the Daily that he cannot speak directly about disciplinary actions towards the freshman who posted the racial slur last week due to FERPA, but he can say that they are working with the student within the realms of ISU’s policies.

“The main message we wanted to express is that this is not who we are,” said Allen. “It is contrary to what we practice here.”

Martino Harmon, senior vice president of student affairs, and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs both released a statement last week condemning the nature of any racial attack on campus.

Harmon said that he wants all students to feel safe, included and have the ability to succeed. His statement described the recent social media post to be “racist, thoughtless and hurtful.”

“We aren’t able to guarantee that students will feel always safe at all times,” said Harmon. “We can’t guarantee that. But what we can do is make sure that we do everything we can so students know what to do when they do experience something that makes them feel unsafe.”

According to Trejo, messages from multicultural student organizations are not enough to address the issue of racism on campus. She stated that white people have a responsibility to stand up for their peers of color.

“For some reason when a white person says something, people begin to actually listen,” she said. “Which is sad, but it’s the reality.”

Burton and Trejo said that they were happy that administrators and higher officials within Iowa State have spoken out. However, they still feel as though the current political climate has made people feel validated for their oppressive beliefs.

“Number 45 really gave people the confidence to go out and say whatever they feel whether they feel like it is right or wrong, because they’ll be like, ‘Oh I feel like [President Trump] has my back, and he uses this language, so I’m going to keep using it,” said Burton.

Trejo added that after Donald Trump was elected president, people such as herself and her peers have been more afraid.

“It brought out the bad side in a lot of people,” she said. “Even if someone is kind to you to your face, they may look at someone like myself, see that I’m tan, and think something like, ‘Oh she’s Mexican, she’s illegal,’ or other terrible things.”