Brown: Always too little, too late


Tom Jorgensen/University of iowa

The University of Iowa campus looking west from Old Capitol and the Pentacrest.

Marcus Brown

[email protected]

On April 30, UI freshman Marcus Owens was assaulted by individuals he described as “three white males, average height, and approximately 19 to 22 years of age.” Owens alleges that the perpetrators yelled racial epithets during the assault, which occurred “in the alleyway of the 200 block of Iowa Avenue.” The incident is being investigated as a hate crime. On Monday, a police report was filed by an individual later identified as Marcus Owens. It took until Wednesday for a crime alert to be issued about the incident, and this only after the story was picked up by a Chicago TV station, along with other news outlets, and outrage poured over from students via social media with the hashtag #ExplainIowa. I would motion for the hashtag #TooLittleTooLate or something of a similar vein, because at this point, I don’t think there is much that needs explaining.

Actions speak louder than words, and more than anything they reveal intention or lack thereof. I suppose the actions of implementing a theme semester dedicated to social justice, putting up gallery exhibits of work done by black artists on campus, and holding panel discussions are supposed to be an indicator of the university’s intent to combat the culture of racism on campus. Yet, this still happened. I for one am not excited to watch the university go through the motions of concern and accountability to alleviate my fears and misgivings. A crime alert issued far too late and possibly as an attempt to stymie what will surely become a well-deserved fiasco is explanation enough of the university’s reluctance to actually address issues on campus with any sort of intentionality.

Perhaps I believed my tokenship would protect me. Maybe I believed that if I did everything that was asked of me that the University of Iowa’s blanket of security woven out of white privilege would extend to me and I would be protected. Because if anything this university will teach you, it does until it doesn’t. I went to the town hall meeting on “Just Living.” I saw the only black student ambassador in attendance sitting there alongside President Bruce Harreld, and I wondered if he felt as though he had to shoulder the weight of the university’s accountability. I wondered if he felt like a hypocrite as I often do when speaking in defense of an institution that would not do the same for me.

In a sense, every black student on campus becomes culpable because our enrollment is counted. Our smiling faces are put on brochures and used to quiet any argument that this university is anything but a bastion of diversity and equality. Our presence grants the university the ability to emulate a clear conscience, but panels and platitudes are not sufficient substitute for actual consideration and support. The feeling I came away with walking away from that town-hall meeting is the same one I felt reading an article about a black man with my name getting beaten as the university turned a blind eye.

The question I have is not what the university is going to do, but simply why is it going to do it. If the university cared about black students, it would have issued a Hawk Alert about a potential hate crime just as urgently as it would all other crimes that occur on campus that specify a potentially black suspect. The notion that is becoming unignorable is that the university only cares about black students when they can be propped up to illustrate the accommodating and diverse nature of the campus. That is until it is time to reciprocate that same level of protection those propped up students give to the reputation of this university. When a report is issued as an afterthought and the university’s first response is over Twitter, it makes you wonder whether these actions are for the protection of the student or the university’s reputation. It makes you wonder just what it means to be a black student on this campus when you aren’t playing your sport, fulfilling the requirements of your diversity scholarship, or working twice as hard as everyone else just to prove you have earned your place here. Evidently, whatever it means to just live on this campus is deserving of inclusion in the diversity statistics but not a Hawk Alert. Regardless of the supposed protocol error, it was too little, too late.

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