UI condemns three racial slur incidents outside Hillcrest

BY NINA EARNEST | APRIL 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa officials are investigating three recent reports of racial slurs being shouted at black students outside Hillcrest Residence Hall.

A University of Iowa sophomore — who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation after speaking out — said Wednesday she and a friend were returning to Hillcrest from a Black Student Union event around 2 a.m. Sunday when they heard a man shouting at them through a dormitory window.

The 20-year-old African American student said the still-unidentified male told the young women to "keep walking, you [N-word]."

The friends failed to identify which window was the source of the shouting. They reported the incident to their resident adviser the next day and discovered a fellow student had experienced a similar situation the previous weekend. She has been in communication with UI officials — in particular Dean of Students David Grady — since that time.

The woman said she decided to report the incident so other students of any ethnicity could follow her example.

"It's almost a safety issue now," she said. "You can't be cautious of being by yourself at night if you don't know about these situations happening."

The student's mother said her daughter was upset and shaken by the incident. She said she guided her daughter to file a police report and subsequently sent an e-mail to UI President Sally Mason.

The mother did not receive a direct reply from the president; instead, she received a response from Grady.

"I would have felt this was serious enough to respond to my e-mail or call," the mother said.

UI Vice President for Student Services Tom Rocklin issued a statement to Hillcrest residents Wednesday morning condemning the incidents.

"Although this appears to be an isolated situation, the university community at large — and I personally — find such behavior absolutely unacceptable," Rocklin wrote.

The student's mother said her immediate concern is the e-mail was only sent to Hillcrest residents. Only a few people, she said, may have come forward at this point who have had similar circumstances.

"I cannot say at this point I am satisfied or dissatisfied," the mother said about the university's actions. "I have a wait-and-see attitude."

Georgina Dodge, the UI's chief diversity officer, said the "necessary" statement is meant to emphasize such situations are not common at the UI.

"If someone is going to thwart us in our efforts, we need to call them out," Dodge said. "We will not accept that kind of behavior."

Dodge said these are the first complaints she has heard from students since she took her position in July 2010. Though Iowa is not an incredibly diverse state — only 11 percent of the UI population are minority students — most students are interested in learning about other cultures, Dodge said.

"If there are people who refuse to be educated, they can wallow in their ignorance," she said. "They need to really think if this is a place they need to be."

Rocklin's statement went on to say the incidents could violate university policy as described in the Code of Student Life.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said, depending on the facts of the case, the incident could violate two articles directing behavior in the Code of Student Life, including Article 23 which forbids "assaulting, threatening … or otherwise endangering the health or safety of any person."

Lyombe Eko, a UI associate professor of journalism, said residence halls are considered a non-public forum. Therefore, offensive conduct might rise to the level of harassment.

"The University of Iowa has many avenues to deal with this kind of thing," Eko said. "If the speech creates a hostile environment, with harassing speech, it definitely is a violation of the rights of other people."

Kevin Pinkston, the president of the Black Graduate and Professional Students Association who has lived in Iowa City for four years, said he was not surprised to hear about the incident because has heard about similar behavior.

"I think it's a minority of the students," he said. "But the reality of the situation is that a lot of things are being said at home and treated as normal."

Pinkston also applauded the sophomore who followed procedure to report the incident, whereas others may not have notified the proper personnel.

And the sophomore student said it causes concern that the unknown perpetrator could live in the same building as she does.

"We're all going to school for the same reason, for an education," the student said. "It's awfully hard to focus on that when people are shouting racial obscenities at you."

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