As COVID-19 cases rise in Johnson County, students call for UI to move completely online with renewed urgency

Dozens of students gathered to protest the UI’s decision to bring students back to campus and have some in-person classes, following the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Iowa City.



Students and community members gather on the grass outside of MacBride Hall on the University of Iowa Pentacrest in Iowa City to listen to Eva Sileo speak during an event protesting the way University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld’s administration has handled campus and community safety during the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, August 28.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

Dozens of students gathered on the Pentacrest on Friday afternoon to protest the University of Iowa administration’s decision to keep students on campus and some classes in-person.

Protesters sat socially distanced on the grass outside Macbride Hall while 12 people spoke on the steps of the building using a microphone. The protest lasted more than an hour.

One speaker prompted the crowd to follow in a chant where she said “How many bodies, Bruce?” and they responded “How many lives?”, while another speaker infomed students of a “sick out”, where students, Teaching Assistants, and faculty members are encouraged to call in sick rather than going to classes online or in-person. The event will take place on Sept. 2nd.

The UI released on Friday afternoon that it has received 507 self-reported cases of COVID-19 among students, bringing the total up to 618 positive cases, including employees and students. The UI has not reported any deaths due to COVID-19 since returning to campus.

Professors, undergraduate and graduate students, University Housing and Dining student employees, and members of the Iowa City community, were among the speakers at the protest, including UI Rhetoric Professor Colin Kostelecky.

Kostelecky said it is currently difficult to be a rhetoric instructor, especially when it comes to helping students understand the rhetoric coming from the UI’s administration.

“It’s been a hard week for rhetoric teachers,” he said. “Not only because of my concern for my students’ safety, your [protesters] safety…but because of the blatant scape-goating coming from our university, from the institution that was supposed to keep us safe. This week, Bruce Harreld wrote an open letter in which he blamed the bars and our students for the current outbreak. He blamed everyone, but himself for the crisis. He thinks you’re the problem, but when I look at this crowd, I don’t see a problem. I see a solution.”

Alongside calling for the university to move all of its classes online, many speakers said university employees deserve hazard pay due to potential interaction with students and faculty members who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Enzo Rizzo, an international student from Brazil, spoke at the protest. In May, he gave The Daily Iowan a tour of his life in the dorms during the early stages of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Just three months later, he called on the university to protect students and stop requiring students to pay full tuition for this semester.

After the protest, Rizzo told the DI he still lives in the dorms and works for University Housing and Dining, even though all of his in-person classes have moved online in the last two weeks. He said he believed he would be a lot safer than he feels when he planned for this semester.

“I feel like the university came up with some solutions, but didn’t check in to see if they’re being followed,” he said. “They don’t enforce students wearing masks in dining or residence halls, or really anywhere else…It’s been two weeks since [the dining halls] have been operating and it’s still unsafe. A lot of [my] coworkers have been testing positive… Every time I go to work I wonder if I’m going to get [COVID-19] today. I just don’t feel safe here anymore.”

At the end of the protest, UI senior Eva Sileo, the organizer of the protest, read a list of demands protesters wanted the university to provide for their students, faculty, and staff members. The requests included online classes immediately, student fees canceled, disband the UI police, and stop working with the Iowa City Police Department.

In an interview with the DI, Sileo said it was important to ensure the protest was accessible to everyone who wanted to show their support. She said she hopes UI President Bruce Harreld will move classes online so he can protect students as well as the greater Iowa City community.

“This university is not the only thing in this town,” she said. “There is a community of people here who deserve to not be put at risk by [Harreld’s] corporate model crisis mitigation strategies that are ultimately just trying to protect profits over the people who live here who are asking him to do things differently.”