Protesters break up Iowa regents meeting asking for tuition freeze

Iowa Student Action protested on Wednesday at the Board of Regents meeting in Urbandale, causing the meeting to end before all agenda items were discussed.


Eleanor Hildebrandt and Kelsey Harrell

URBANDALE — Iowa Student Action, a group composed of students from across Iowa, interrupted Wednesday’s state Board of Regents meeting to protest the multiyear tuition model, asking the regents implement a tuition freeze for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

The student protesters shouted “Whose schools? Our schools” and “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white” among other chants during the meeting. The group was made up of regent institutions’ students, including UI students.

Some UI students were concerned about the university underfunding organizations on campus that benefit minorities and first-generation students. The group said these organizations were crucial in the retention of underrepresented students at the UI.

An ISU transfer student said to a group of people at the protest she believed the political climate of the country has promulgated an atmosphere promoting racism on her campus. She says there has been white supremacy and Nazi propaganda spread on campus, including death threats to Native American students who were doing a land declaration, claiming ISU administrators haven’t done enough. The student said that violence on campus rises when tuition does.

UI College of Education student Dulce Escorcia became emotional during the protest, stating college is about learning, but higher education isn’t. Escorcia said race plays a significant role inside and out of classrooms.

“With high tuition, you [the board] have created a culture across campuses that prioritizes white and wealthy students,” they said. “Low-income students and students of color are seen as lacking resources and lacking knowledge. It is surprising and impressive when students do well in class alongside white students. There are questions about if we are meant to be here at your institutions. Similarly, students question if professors of color can participate in academia.”

Escorcia, a Latinx student, said racist experiences were plentiful to them and other minority students on the UI campus.

“In my freshman year at Iowa, I had already heard about racist acts at the university,” they said. “I saw Nazi graffiti [on campus]… There are white supremacists on campus and you all don’t care.”

Escorcia discussed an instance last spring where a banner reading “Build a Wall” was on campus by students. They said the university administration allowed space on campus for white supremacists.

Hayley Bruce with the UI Strategic Communications Office told The Daily Iowan after the Feb. 21, 2019 demonstration that the university “values the First Amendment” and iterated that the university encourages the respectful exchange of ideas on campus.

Student group Young Americans for Freedom’s initial request to reserve Kautz Plaza for the protest was at first denied because of university policy that does not allow certain structures there without prior approval.

“The student organization intended to erect a wall out of tarp and PVC pipes as part of the event,” she said. Bruce added that the events committee proposed Hubbard Park as an alternative location because structures are permitted in that space.

“The committee also gave the student organization the alternative of using Kautz Plaza and including their tarp as a banner over their table to align with university policies,” she said.

Young Americans For Freedom appealed the decision to UI officials, and Bruce said their appeal was granted based on the current operations manual policy ensuring that displays don’t constitute a safety hazard or obstruct access to campus buildings and spaces.

The regents are unable to engage in conversation with the protesters according to open-meetings laws because the item is not on the meeting docket, Regent Executive Director Mark Braun told the DI after the regents’ meeting adjourned early.

Before the protest, Iowa Student Action sent a letter to the regents Dec. 8. The letter explained the multi-year tuition policy was hurt minorities.

On Dec. 12, Regent President Mike Richards sent a letter on behalf of the governing board, explaining the concerns about diversity was heard and that there were public forums on tuition on each campus before the multiyear system was adopted.

While speaking with the DI Wednesday, Richards said the regents adjourned the meeting early due to the protests and were unable to discuss the items on their docket.

“We had a time for public comment,” he said. “There was a window from 12 to 1 and they did not avail themselves at that opportunity. The board would have sat and listened to all of the things that they had to say. They missed that window or chose not to take it. This is what we had to do.”

[Editor’s note: The Daily Iowan initially used she/her/hers pronouns for UI student Dulce Escorcia. Escorcia uses they/them/theirs pronouns, so the article has been updated to reflect Escorcia’s correct pronouns. The DI apologizes for this error and the harm it caused Escorcia, and any transgender or gender nonbinary individuals in the community.]