The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

University Democrats at Iowa respond to regents president calling them ‘idiots’ for statement

Recent emails between state Board of Regents President Mike Richards and other regents include Richards calling the University Democrats at Iowa’s pro-Palestine message a “Terrible statement,” then referring to the group as “Idiots.”
Board+of+Regents+President+Mike+Richards+listens+during+a+regents+meeting+in+the+Alumni+Center+at+Iowa+State+University+on+April+6%2C+2022.+
Daniel McGregor-Huyer
Board of Regents President Mike Richards listens during a regents meeting in the Alumni Center at Iowa State University on April 6, 2022.

University Democrats at Iowa interim President Kiana Shevling-Major said she wasn’t offended after finding out that state Board of Regents President Mike Richards called its pro-Palestine message a “terrible statement” and referred to the group as “idiots” in an email. 

Shevling-Major said she admired the boldness of a statement. 

“He did say that ‘Yeah, it was inappropriate for me to say that,’ and so I also admire his ability to release an apology because I do appreciate that,” she said. “People are gonna have differing opinions and people are gonna say things that are maybe in the heat of the moment, so it’s no big deal really.”

Richards’ message came after a recent controversy involving the University Democrats at Iowa after they published a statement on Nov. 1 supporting Palestine during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. 

“We shamelessly and fully support Palestine,” the statement, obtained by The Daily Iowan read. “The ongoing violence against millions of innocent people is egregious and the perpetuation of it by the United States of America and other Western states is even more so … We will protest, advocate, and fight for the human rights of all, for the human rights of Palestine.”

The University Democrats at Iowa then signed off stating, “May every Palestinian live long and free, from the river to the sea.”

The statement included a line similar to “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which refers to the Jordan River, which acts as a border of Israel to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea, which lines the coast of the western border of Israel. 

According to the Guardian, the phrase is interpreted by people who are pro-Israel calling for the genocide of Israelis, but people who are pro-Palestine say it is instead referring to a state in which Palestinians can be free. It also has been associated with Hamas, the militant group that attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7. 

Richards’ message was included in an email chain obtained by the Cedar Rapids Gazette between him and other regents and regent staff, in which they discussed the status of the conflict in Gaza and its impact on Iowa’s public universities. 

In the emails, which the Gazette reported were from Oct. 27, regent Robert Cramer asked regents Executive Director Mark Braun for updates on “issues on the campuses regarding the events in Israel.”

“Have there been any protests?” Cramer wrote in an email to Braun and the other nine regents. “Any concerns of safety from Jewish or Palestinian students?”

Braun wrote back to Cramer, stating that protests hadn’t occurred on campuses, but Iowa public universities were still keeping an eye on social media posts and writing that “there is currently no threat of violence.”

Regent David Barker then corrected Braun in the email chain, writing that there was a protest held by various students on the UI Pentacrest.

Later in the email chain on Nov. 1, Braun shared the University Democrats at Iowa’s statement with the regents. Richards responded to the statement with the message “Terrible statement. Idiots.” 

The DI reached out to Josh Lehman, senior communications director for the regents, for comment, who wrote in an email response that the regents had provided a comment to the Gazette and had nothing else to add.

“I continue to strongly disagree with what they said and stand by that,” Richards said. “However, I should not have used insulting language toward the students.”

Richards released a statement on Nov. 1 in support of Israel. 

“The Board of Regents fully supports the people and State of Israel, and are steadfast in our solidarity with them,” Richards said. “We condemn all acts of terrorism.”

UI Democrats receive backlash following social media post

Following the posting of the University Democrats at Iowa’s statement, the Iowa Democratic Party requested the resignations of three student representatives on the group’s executive board who signed the statement. Then University Democrats at Iowa President Estella Ruhrer-Johnson resigned on Nov. 11. She did not sign the statement. 

“Resignation was not how I saw my presidency concluding, however, due to the diminished authority of the president’s role within the executive board, I am unable to equitably lead,” Ruhrer-Johnson said in a statement obtained by DI

Shevling-Major previously told the DI that she used the phrase “from the river to the sea” in reference to her support for Palestinians, “who are currently being held hostage in their own land, from the river of Jordan to the sea of the Mediterranean.” 

She said the statement was not intended to infer the genocide of the Israeli people, but rather to advocate for the freedom of Palestinians. 

According to Shevling-Major, the statement was met with backlash from social media users, as well as the request to retract the statement by the Johnson County Democrats and multiple Iowa State Representatives.

The University Democrats at Iowa later corrected its statement by ending it with the statement “May every Palestinian live long and free.”

The corrected post was also removed less than an hour after it was posted. 

Shevling-Major said the University Democrats at Iowa took the statement down from their social media within an hour of it being posted due to multiple Iowa State Representatives reaching out and asking them to take it down. 

“I refuse to apologize for supporting Palestine,” Shevling-Major said in a written statement to the DI. “I refuse to stop calling out oppression when I see it. I refuse to be silenced, and I will continue to use my platform to advocate for the human rights of those being denied them, wherever they may be.” 

Meeting with Iowa Democratic Party 

Since the Iowa Democrats at Iowa released its statement, members of the student organization met with party Chair Rita Hart, which Shevling-Major said didn’t provide the closure she hoped for.

“Considering that the IDP wants to work with university Democrats across the state, I think it’s important that we don’t just brush this under the rug and actually get closure on something,” she said. “We’re the constituents, we hold the power of the vote, so I think it’s important that you’re vocal about what you stand for.”

Natalie Miller contributed to this report.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Kate Perez, Senior Reporter
she/her/hers
Kate Perez is a third-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in English and a Writing Certificate. Prior to her role as a Senior Reporter at The Daily Iowan, Kate was a News Editor, a Digital Producer, and an News Reporter. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Kate has held internships at USA TODAY, Iowa Public Radio, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
Daniel McGregor-Huyer, Photojournalist/Videographer
(he/him/his)
Email: [email protected] Daniel McGregor-Huyer is a photojournalist and videographer at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior majoring in cinematic arts with a certificate in disability studies. He has worked with the DI as a photographer and videographer for two years.