Opinion | Faculty comments prompts community letter

The letter, which has yet to be responded to, highlights behavior from a UI staff member.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

The Old Capitol is pictured on April 14, 2022.

Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

Each spring semester, the University of Iowa hosts a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration of Human Rights Week to mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

The UI MLK Celebration Week website states the annual holiday is meant to encourage UI students and staff to attend free events highlighting the legacy and current application of Martin Luther King, Jr. advocacy.

Most attendees go to learn from MLK events on campus. This year, one UI professor showed his lack of support for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s anti-racist, anti-incarceration philosophy through racialized comments on social media.

Clarence Kreiter is a professor who works at the Carver College of Medicine and teaches Family Medicine.

One MLK campus panel hosted by the “Just Us” documentary team featured previously incarcerated speakers. They discussed the disproportionate effects the justice system has on people of color living in the U.S. and reformative solutions to this issue.

In response to a “Just Us” post following the event, Kreiter wrote several claims on his Facebook. Based on his comments, Kreiter appears to believe racial disparities in incarceration rates are due to “difference in behavioral repertoires,” and these problems “can’t be solved by simply shouting racism.”

Previous posts on Kreiter’s page include one graphic which reads “nobody is more inferior than those who insist on being equal.” Kreiter noted concerns about free speech on campus claiming he “doesn’t know anyone who is comfortable expressing an unpopular opinion.”

In response to these behaviors, students, and Iowa City organizations wrote a letter to President Barbara Wilson and several UI deans demanding action.

“It was disheartening to see the public comments made by Kreiter,”  the letter read. As faculty, students, and staff who care about the well-being of our UI community…we write to demand an immediate suspension, public apology, and formal investigation.”

Zach Palmer, an undergraduate student and founder of the UI Coalition to Abolish Prison Slavery (CAPS), worked on the letter after speaking at the Just Us panel.

“We all have First Amendment rights,” Palmer said. “But we must also deal with the consequences of our actions if we spread hate and discrimination. I began to think about how the biases presented in Kreiter’s posts may impact his role as a medical professional. Implicit biases don’t just affect our social media activity.”

“The harrowing language of this statement clearly reflects eugenics philosophy, as the Professor of Family Medicine is suggesting the inherent academic inferiority of individuals of color,” the letter stated. “This calls into question how he might treat students of color in his own classrooms, how he might educate his students to treat others.”

“Just Us” is co-directed by Maya Ben-Shahar and Cedric Theus. Ben-Shahar shared why instances of racialized speech, especially by medical professionals, need to be highlighted.

“Part of what Cedric and I wanted to do is collaborate with medical professionals at UI to bring attention to health and mental health needs in Iowa prisons,” Ben-Shahar wrote.

UI has a pattern of no action when campus employees are called out for racist behaviors on-campus. Several former UI football players are still awaiting their day in court to pursue a $20 million dollar discrimination settlement. Even with the allegations, football coach Kirk Ferentz’s contract has been renewed with a $7 million dollar base salary until 2029.

Racist instances on campus impact the well-being of Black and brown students, interfering with their ability to be part of campus life in the same way as their white peers. UI administration must take action to show that racism from UI staff in the classroom, on the field, and on social media will not be tolerated moving forward.