Guest Column: Psych matters: Moving beyond racism at Iowa State

Submission Note

The Department of Psychology has begun an initiative to lay the groundwork for a more welcoming climate for racial/ethnic minority students, staff and faculty at Iowa State.

One way in which we would like to demonstrate our commitment to reducing racism and discrimination is this editorial series.

For the next six weeks, educational pieces on the psychology of racism and personal stories written by various faculty and students will be shared. The first three pieces will provide scientific background on intergroup relations between different ethnic and racial groups, from a social psychological perspective. The fourth will provide data from a 20-year study of African Americans in Iowa and their experiences of racism that was conducted by researchers at Iowa State. The final three pieces will allow readers to hear about the journeys of three faculty and students as they have navigated issues of power and privilege.

This series was edited by Stephanie Carrera, Graduate Student in Psychology and Carolyn Cutrona, Professor and Chair of Psychology


Growing up in the inner city of Chicago, I never really internalized what it meant to be different and the need for diversity until I came to Iowa State. My family and friends warned me that I would face many challenges, however that did not stop me from filling out the application and accepting this school as my home for the next four years.

I never heard of the term “Iowa Nice” until my second semester here. I was greeted with smiling faces and told stories of how great and historic this campus was. It wasn’t until I kept experiencing small incidents of subtle racism when I realized maybe this campus was not so “nice.”

I noticed that I would be the only student of color in many, if not most of my classes. When it came to group work and working in pairs, I was almost always the last person to get a partner. When I was finally picked, the first few things my partners would ask is “What’s your major?” “Where are you from?” and “What are you?” In my head, I would respond to the last question saying “oh you know, just regular human being” but my actual response would be “a mixture of things but I choose to identify mostly as black”. I’ve had many conversations where I would have to represent for the entire race of black people, only for them to continue to ask me about false stereotypes shown in the media and completely disregarding me as an individual.

The ultimate disappointment I have had here at this university is when a student asked, in a classroom where I was the only student of color, “Why do we not have Columbus Day off but we have MLK day off?” In this situation, the teacher in the classroom did not do a good job of explaining why and proceeded to ask me my thoughts.

I was very disappointed in the fact that the teacher did not have a proper response and decided to ask the only student of color for further explanation. We need well educated educators at this university who are able to understand and help stop such biases, prejudice, stereotypes and exclusive behaviors. Racism should not be such a taboo topic and in order to get rid of it, we need to have this conversations as well as the oppressors need to understand a perspective different from their own.