Black students search for a sense of belonging in Iowa City schools, expand Black Student Unions

Iowa City School Board members commit to efforts to combat racism following student input.


Jerod Ringwald

Mayasa Hamid holds a sign that reads “Enough is Enough” in front of an Old Capitol Museum employee asking students to move during a protest against racial discrimination throughout the Iowa City Public School District in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. The employee wanted the students to move because they were blocking access. “That is completely understandable, however, her attitude was very uncomfortable,” Hamid said. “This is a peaceful protest and we don’t want to do block anyone from doing anything. We’re just here to remind you Black Lives Matter.”

Arabia Parkey, News Reporter

After recent protests by Iowa City Community School District members over an incident involving the usage of racial slurs on social media by a West High School student, Iowa City students are organizing to confront racism in the district through student-run Black Student Unions.

Shay Church-Roberts, a senior and president of the Iowa City Liberty High School Black Student Union, said Black students are commonly overlooked in advanced placement courses, no matter if they are the first ones to participate in class.

“In a lot of our AP classes I’ve had teachers that have made me feel as though I don’t belong in that class, as if I don’t deserve to be in there just as much as one of my white classmates,” Church-Roberts said.

Church-Roberts also described instances of coaches and teachers making insensitive comments about her hair and attempting to touch it without her permission.

“He just came up to me in the middle of the hallway, tried to touch me and said, ‘Is your hair real?’” Church-Roberts said. “And obviously I have to explain to him that when you do that you make me feel like I’m a pet or something.”

Kufre Ituk, Liberty High School senior, said they have noticed Black students in Iowa City schools being pushed toward sports instead of other interests they may have. For example, Ituk said Liberty High School’s jazz choirs have no Black singers because Black students don’t feel welcome, though jazz has deep roots within Black culture.

RELATED: Iowa City School District community members protest over racial slurs in student video

“It just makes me feel discluded a lot of the time,” Ituk said. “And also, because we live in a predominantly white area, it just gets to a point where you have to coach yourself through ways that you’re going to deal with those kinds of things.”

Mayasa Hamid, Iowa City West High School junior, said she faces increased difficulties in finding school resources, in comparison to white students.

“Whenever I go to find resources, I just feel like I have to go find it by myself, every single one,” Hamid said. “Nobody’s going to tell me because nobody wants me to succeed, being a Black Muslim woman.”

Hamid said there needs to be accountability for microaggressions and discriminatory incidents.

“I would like to have a sit-down with some of the teachers and the first step in this long process is accountability,” Hamid said. “I think that should be the first step because if we just skip right to the consequence part, then they don’t get to feel what they did was wrong.”

In response to recurring racist and discriminatory incidents, Black Student Unions have been created or are in the process of being established at West High School, Liberty High School, and Iowa City High School.

RELATED: Iowa City School Board members commit to efforts to combat racism following student input

Liberty High School’s Black Student Union was created in early November, with goals to inspire and educate students on African American history and culture, Liberty High School senior and Black Student Union Vice President Plameldy Matiyabo said.

“Our goals of the BSU are to improve race relations at Liberty High and create a safe space for all minorities, expand on culture and ideas for African Americans and minority students,” Matiyabo said.

Currently, Liberty’s BSU is working on action steps to educate on race and culture, including holding a Culture Day and a district-wide Black Student Union conference, Matiyabo said.

Church-Roberts said the group also actively works with West High’s Black Student Union and the developing Iowa City High’s, as well as local organizations such as Iowa Freedom Riders and L.E.A.D.

“We just want our Black students and other students of color to feel safe and welcomed at Liberty, that is our main goal,” Church-Roberts said.