No stranger to racism

BY EMILY INMAN | APRIL 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Racism really does happen here.

In response to student reports and media attention, UI officials have called recent incidents of racial harassment, including the yelling of slurs and the N-word outside Hillcrest last week, “isolated” and “not widespread.” UI Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge commented there is no direct racism toward African-Americans on campus. However, my own experiences here at Iowa, and my friends’ as well, prove that cases of racism at Iowa occur more frequently than officials would like to admit.

Last year, a few of my friends and I decided to go to the Union bar downtown. My male, black friends were dressed fairly nicely, in dark-pressed jeans with button-down shirts. After presenting identification and door fees, one of my friends was denied entry because his pants were “too baggy.”

A second friend was denied entry because his braids were “too long.” His braids were tightly fixed and didn’t go below his neckline. The bouncers gave them hell and asked them to leave the premises.

Shortly after, several white men with pants just as baggy were allowed entry. When we questioned the bouncers, we were again told to leave. This is only an example of one night; many of my minority friends have similar stories that they recount from numerous occasions over their years spent at the UI.

Distressing instances of racism also occur in the classroom. While waiting for my TA to arrive for a culture-based class’s discussion section, students lamented about how the course is only about “black people and their stupid movements” and “racial propaganda.” Again, this is not an isolated incident.

Dodge said the racial slur incidents outside of Hillcrest last week were the first cases she has heard about since taking her position as UI chief diversity officer. This struck me as odd; I approached her at a Center for Diversity and Enrichment dinner this school year and told her about some of my friends’ experiences with discrimination and racism.

I decided to call Dodge and ask directly about the comments she made regarding the Hillcrest cases. She said that her comments were accurately quoted and she stands behind her remarks. I began to tell her more stories of minorities’ grave interactions with ignorant students. She quickly remembered me and asked if I was the one who had approached her at the dinner about these issues.

Still, she stood behind comments made to the public that the Hillcrest cases were the first she had heard of racism on the UI campus.

She then began to toss out rhetorical jargon about the resources available to students and how officials are working to curb future incidents and increase diversity on campus. But if Dodge doesn’t acknowledge that such cases are commonplace, how can she understand the larger problem at hand?

She did stress the importance of people reporting incidents, seeking help from officials, and speaking out about wrongdoings. She said that her office is incapable of doing anything if people don’t report discrimination. However, personal experience and education should have taught Dodge that when many incidences of racism occur overtime for long periods of time, and nothing is done about it, people tend to learn their concerns won’t be addressed. Many minority persons whom I meet around campus lament their problems to one another and then comment that it’s not even worth it to bother bringing it up to officials.

Not everyone on campus is racist toward minority students; I have had white friends stand up and defend me in certain situations. More troubling than the actual discrimination is the refusal of UI officials to recognize that there is a problem.

As part of her efforts to decrease discrimination, Dodge has cited attempts to recruit more minority students. But this will only mask the problem. Until discrimination is addressed and dealt with directly, it will continue to smolder within the UI community. More needs to be done than a few diversity events a semester, which are normally only attended by minorities, or one or two lectures a semester regarding discrimination.

Dodge and similar officials need to address the entire UI community. They shouldn’t be afraid to admit when there’s a real problem, particularly when it affects people so profoundly.

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