Semester of discrimination prompts change at Iowa State

A group of faceless protesters behind a fence. Students protested discrimination on Iowa State’s campus earlier in the semester.

Morgan Laviolette

Discriminatory events on campus have caused students to voice their opinions, and Iowa State’s President Wendy Wintersteen to make major changes moving toward next semester.

Nathaniel Wade, psychology professor at Iowa State, said he believes minorities on campus fear for their safety as a result of racial negativity.

“It’s certainly had a negative impact,” Wade said. “It communicates that [minorities] might be a potential target of verbal attacks or other kinds of micro-aggressions. It creates a certain degree of uncertainty and fear. It further highlights their lack of privilege on campus and in our communities.”

Discriminatory events are negatively impacting minorities in their daily lives on campus, Wade said. Psychological effects include anxiety, stress and paranoia.

In order to address discriminatory events, the university implemented a temporary chalking policy after abortion arguments took place on sidewalks. Additional events include the defacement of Bean House in Geoffroy Hall with a racial slur and social media pictures surfacing of Student Government Adviser Alex Krumm with his face painted black. All of this led to students protesting the events by blocking off Lincoln Way, demanding to speak with Wintersteen.

Most recently, Kyle Francis Haney, junior in political science at Iowa State, was charged with first-degree harassment and fourth-degree criminal mischief for allegedly making comments and doing damage to a Frederiksen Court apartment.

“It creates anger and stress for people,” Wade said. “I think one of the things that really stood out for me is how difficult it is once these acts are perpetrated — for students of color specifically — it can create a situation where you just don’t know who to trust.” 

The stress for minorities comes from a feeling of uncertainty and lack of acceptance in their own school, Wade said.

“As students of color look around at white students and faculty, they don’t know who’s an ally, who’s not, who would agree with these kinds of racist remarks and who wouldn’t, and that kind of uncertainty is a lot to deal with psychologically,” Wade said.

Wade described the paranoia as a natural response to being a target of discriminatory remarks.

“Some psychologists talk about healthy paranoia,” Wade said. “Within a majority population, people from a minority perspective would say that they have a legitimate reason to feel [paranoid]. They have real reasons to believe people might be out to get them.”

There have been efforts made by students and administration to end racism on campus and educate everyone on the issues from the last semester. 

Wintersteen said she wanted students on campus to understand her position on these issues and what her plan of action is.

“I and my leadership team have continued to denounce racism, white supremacy, antisemitism and bigotry in all forms,” Wintersteen said. “We want our students to know that when racist incidents are reported on campus, the top concern is for those who are subjected to the racist incident or impacted in some way because of that incident. We want to make sure that we are working together to provide resources and support that those students need.”

Wintersteen talked about what is being done on her side to prevent similar situations from happening in the future. 

“We decided it would be very helpful for the leadership team to meet daily,” Wintersteen said. “We start every morning with a phone call so that we can hear from our campus climate response system about what has happened in the previous day. In addition, we have been meeting at least weekly to review our actions and talk about the next steps that are needed.” 

Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Reginald Stewart talked about Campus Climate Response System (CCRS) and how it works to respond to reported events on campus.

Stewart said the goal of CCRS is to handle everything in a timely manner and give an immediate and direct contact to people who are impacted.

“We built the Campus Climate Reporting System about two years ago,” Stewart said. “It has the expressed purpose of being able to collect information on incidents that take place on campus and rapidly turn that information back around to whichever organization or agency on campus that can address it.” 

Stewart said the Students Against Racism are working to create an advisory board to focus on harassment and discrimination issues.

“Our office of equal opportunity has had an advisory board in both 2017 and 2018, but disbanded in 2019 for lack of student interest,” said Stewart. “But in this case, students have demonstrated an interest in having a voice and learning even more about the process of harassment and discrimination.”

Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Martino Harmon discussed other actions being taken that address students of Iowa State directly.

“We have been really intentional through this time period in being transparent,” Harmon said. “We have been posting the incidents that come forward on the Campus Climate website. We want to make sure that we are being as transparent as we can possibly be by letting the campus community know when we have challenging situations.”

Recent acts of discriminatory violence in the residence halls throughout the semester were acknowledged by Harmon. 

“Unfortunately, we’ve had a number of incidents that have occurred in the residence halls,” Harmon said. “Although the halls have a history of programming around the principles of community and good citizenship, we needed to ramp that up dramatically.”

Harmon said changes are being made in the residence halls to incorporate diversity and inclusion into student housing. 

“Starting next semester, we are going to launch an online diversity and inclusion training,” Harmon said. “We are going to expect every resident in University-arranged housing will take that training, and it’ll be reinforced by other programming in the halls.”

Wintersteen noted students were not the only ones needing to make a change on campus.

“We agreed with the students that it would be very helpful to think about our administrative team as well as faculty and staff and the additional training they need to receive,” Wintersteen said. “We are going to be having cultural and humility competency training for the members of my leadership team in early January before the next semester starts.”

Wintersteen said creating a more inclusive campus requires all members of the Iowa State community to make a commitment. 

“In this coming semester, I would really encourage our students to think about being willing to stand up for their own values and beliefs,” Wintersteen said. “If they see acts of racism occurring, they can have the courage to say, ‘That’s not right.’ We always want to share a hand of friendship and be that welcoming voice of acceptance.”

Students Against Racism is not an official Iowa State student organization. Rather, they are a group of individuals with a goal to reduce incidents of discrimination at Iowa State.

They have met with Wintersteen multiple times throughout the semester to address the events on campus and previously made demands to implement changes to the campus atmosphere.

Creating an inclusive environment is an ongoing process at Iowa State that requires a conversation between students and administration, Stewart said.

“Students change the world, and they start by changing it on their campuses,” Stewart said. “Raising their voices by saying what they see from their perspective and bringing it to administrators is how progress happens.”

There will be a meeting with Students Against Racism to discuss recent events at 7 p.m Jan. 28 in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

“Protest and activism is a necessary part of change,” Stewart said. “It’s good to be able to enter 2020 being able to put these things into motion. Even though change comes from stressful situations, I think we’re going to be a better university for the intentional nature of the way we’re approaching things right now.”