Community members blast UI on racism during strategic planning forum


A strategic planning forum takes place in the 2nd Floor Ballroom at the Iowa Memorial Union on May 4, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Karley Finkel)

The University of Iowa community voiced its frustrations with discrimination to officials, talking about an alleged hate crime and sharing personal examples of how prevalent racism is on campus at an all-campus strategic planning forum.

Wednesday’s forum took place shortly after news broke of an alleged racially motivated assault that occurred on April 30 against UI freshman Marcus Owens. The UI issued a crime alert Wednesday after the campus community spoke out on Twitter. The hashtag #ExplainIowa trended, with users demanding an explanation from the UI for its response.

A UI faculty member brought the assault against Owens into the conversation at the forum, one of eight held in the past 10 days. It was meant for members of the campus community to voice any concerns they wanted to be addressed in the UI 2016-21 Strategic Plan, which will be completed in October.

The faculty member, who did not identify himself, said he felt ashamed at the UI’s lack of communication about the assault.

“I think it is an appalling delay that indicates not only unforgivable administrator fallacies but problems among the students,” the faculty member said.

Discrimination on campus became the main topic of conversation after UI freshman Hira Mustafa shared her experience. Through tears, Mustafa said a UI student called her a terrorist when she was dressed in cultural Pakistani clothing.

Mustafa said she did not point the blame at the student, but rather at the UI for how it handled the situation and discrimination on campus.

“I know that you guys have boards and forums dedicated to diversity and social justice, but when there’s only a handful of people of color at these meetings, it’s not effective,” Mustafa said. “You need to not tell people in these groups what you’re going to do to help, you need to ask them how you can help them.”

Mustafa’s story prompted other students to share their experiences and call for increased funding for diversity programs.

One student said he felt the UI spends recklessly in some areas, such as an expensive presidential search that was “flawed and rigged,” while refusing to fund cultural houses and organizations that support marginalized communities on campus.

Iowa student Haley Henscheid, a co-president of the UI Native American Student Association, said she was upset about the impending tuition increase. She has worked to recruit Native American students to study at the UI; however, she said, it’s difficult to keep them here because of rising tuition.

“Recruitment is important, but retaining is also important,” she said. “I know three or four [Native American] students who have already left campus, and it’s really hard to leave a reservation.”

Associate Professor David Cunning, a co-head of the strategic planning committee, thanked the students and others for their input.

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