Letter to the Editor | Reinstate Dr. Heckner

A UI student calls for Dr. Elke Heckner, a lecturer within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to be reinstated at the University of Iowa.

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Jeff Sigmund

The Old Capitol is seen on April 13, 2020.


I understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the University of Iowa. However, I am shocked and distraught by the way the university handled the firing of some its lecturers, especially those that I believe are essential to providing education regarding the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights at the University of Iowa. I am very saddened by the decision to terminate Dr. Elke Heckner’s position, and I hope this letter will be influential in her reinstatement.

As an African American student, Dr. Heckner’s courses allowed me to persevere to become the student that I am today. Her courses and her inspiring teaching have shaped me to become a person that is aware of systemic racism in history as well as in our current society. She inspired me to become an advocate for not just those of my race but of other minority groups worldwide that still suffer the aftermath of oppression many years later. I have had the honor of taking multiple classes with Dr. Heckner. One of my favorite classes was Politics of Memory: Holocaust-Genocide-9/11. In concurrent climates of racial tension in the United States and around the world, it is essential for courses like these to be offered. Dr. Heckner taught on genocides in Europe and Africa and other genocidal conflicts that occurred in the United States.

It was through this class that I learned of genocides that I didn’t even know existed. Knowledge of these genocides is very important for understanding how race and class are developed and how it still impacts many people today worldwide. It was through this class that I first learned of the Armenian genocide. I was familiar with the Rwandan genocide, however this class helped me learn more about it through doing a project on child soldiers and the trauma faced by many Rwandan children after killing their friends and loved ones. Learning about racial tensions helped me become articulate and knowledgeable when discussing these topics. Given the current racial tensions in our country today, Dr. Heckner’s course is fundamental to understanding the underlying causes.

As a minority student in Iowa’s nursing program, Professor Heckner’s courses impact how I care for minority patients. Every day, I strive to become aware and acknowledge individuals concerns and fear of the healthcare system whether it is due to trauma from living through genocides or experiencing other forms of racial tension. I believe that is very important for everyone, not just those in the health-care field, to understand the perspectives of individuals and acknowledge how their past is still very apparent to how they live.

I came to Iowa, knowing it was a majority white campus. However, despite this fact, courses by Dr. Heckner helped me diversify my knowledge of racial issues. I cannot recommend the University of Iowa to future students knowing its disregard for lecturers like Dr. Heckner. Again, I urge you to consider reinstating Professor Heckner as she is a valuable and well-distinguished lecturer in the German Department at the University of Iowa.

—Annette Smith, Nursing Major/German Minor

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