Family, friends hold memorial in honor of former University of Iowa student Makeda Scott

Scott’s friends, professors, and mother described her as a “critical mind” and a light to many people.


Ryan Adams

Participants light candles during a memorial service held for Makeda Scott on the University of Iowa Pentacrest on Friday, September 25, 2020. According to the Johnson County Sherriff, Scott had drowned at Lake MacBride on June 7th of this year. Scott was 21 at the time, having recently graduated from Iowa with a degree in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

Family and friends of University of Iowa graduate Makeda Scott gathered on the lawn of the Old Capitol building Friday evening to celebrate Scott’s life.

Organized by the Iowa Freedom Riders, a crowd of around 150 community members gathered and shared speeches, songs and poems. 

“I would like to thank the IFR for everything they have done to make this possible,” Scott’s mother Simmone Spencer-Vangorp said. “The support [is] so welcome and appreciated.”

One of Scott’s professors, Lina-Maria Murillo, a Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies professor, said Scott was one of the most intellectually curious students she had encountered — always asking questions she didn’t know how to answer.

“I, too, saw Makeda’s incredible future,” Murillo said. “One of the most critical minds [and] radical thinkers.”

Many of Scott’s family and friends encouraged the attendees at the memorial to contact the Johnson County Sheriff’s department to demand further investigation into Scott’s death. Scott died on a boating trip to Lake MacBride with a coworker. 

The sheriff’s department ruled Scott’s death as an accidental drowning on Sept.18 , something those closest to her said they found suspicious. According to a press release from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, on June 7, Scott and a co-worker were spending the afternoon on the lake in a Hobie Tandam Island kayak. The release stated that Scott fell into the water without a life jacket, and the co-worker threw a life jacket to Scott, but she was unable to reach it. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the co-worker made two attempts to maneuver the kayak and save Scott, but she disappeared underwater. The co-worker then called 911.  Scott’s body was recovered by a search and rescue operation at noon the next day near where she fell off the kayak, according to the release.

“The investigation did not show any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the co-worker or anyone else,” the release stated. “The Johnson County Attorney’s Office subsequently reviewed the case and determined criminal charges were not warranted.”

Spencer-Vangorp gave a speech commemorating Scott, saying that she was an ally and a positive influence to everyone in her life.

“You became the light to so many people…not just your siblings, but to everyone you met,” Spencer-Vangorp said.

This same sentiment was shared by Scott’s former roommates and close friends, all of whom attested to Scott encouraging self-love and being someone they could rely on in any situation.

“Makeda was one of my very favorite people in this entire world,” one of Scott’s former roommates, recent UI graduate Kirsten Stage said. “I only knew Makeda for the last four years of her life, but in that time, she became the person I could go to for everything.”

Spencer-Vangorp said their family moved from Jamaica to Iowa five years ago.

Spencer-Vangorp said Scott had shared several experiences with her where she had received racist comments while attending the UI, prompting Spencer-Vangorp to call upon the university to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“This is not about politics, this is not about Black Lives Matter, this isn’t about anything,” Spencer-Vangorp said. “This is about a human being not being able to afford the same privileges like everyone else in a university that did not keep their promise to me when I went to orientation.”

The memorial concluded with leaders of the Iowa Freedom Riders group leading a chant to prompt those in attendance to say Scott’s name, encouraging the community to continue to fight for justice for her.

“Say her name,” IFR leaders said, followed by a crowd response of “Makeda Scott.”