Pentacrest protest targets potential UI Center for Human Rights closure


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Shouts of protest echoed around the Pentacrest Wednesday afternoon.

More than 100 students, faculty, and community members gathered to protest the closing of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. Led by Zach Heffernen, the president of Students for Human Rights, the protest lasted an hour and stretched across the east side of the Pentacrest and ended with a march to Jessup Hall.

“The university intends to close the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights,” Heffernen said. “There are many people, me included, who believe this is a bad decision. We are here today protesting that decision.”

Protesters came from many backgrounds. Students stood next to professors who stood next to community members — all to share the same message.

“I think [the protest] sends a message that there are many that have a shared interest in the center continuing, regardless of their background,” said David McCartney, UI archivist.

UI officials decided to discontinue funding for the center. Officials said that does not necessarily mean it will close if supporters find other means to maintain the center.

“Elimination of funding for staff does not equate with ‘closing’ unless the participants insist they cannot operate without staff,” wrote Provost P. Barry Butler in an email. “Many centers informally operate with voluntary participation by faculty and staff.”

A few years ago, former Provost Wallace Loh decided to cut general-education funds to keep up with the legislative appropriation cuts. The funds for the Rights Center were diverted to educational instruction.

Protesters said there were two goals to Wednesday’s protest.

“One: make sure people know about it,” Heffernen said. “Two: get people to jump on board with the campaign.”

One passerby was impressed by the protest — and inspired to learn more.

“I think it’s neat that they’re protesting for something they’re passionate about,” said graduate student Morgan Schneider. “I wanted to know what they were protesting about.”

The passion that intrigued Schneider inspired another student to jump on board.

“I was definitely inspired by what they were doing,” said UI junior Nick Lopez. “How passionate that everybody is about saving the center is great.”

Often, students aimed their shouts of protest at the  UI president.

“[We want] to show President Mason and Provost Butler that this is something students care about,” said UI senior Miranda Nielson.

In an email, Butler wrote he is looking for ways to help the Rights Center continue.

“I am currently exploring options that will provide a sustainable operating model for [the center] into the future,” Butler said.

For some students, the loss of affiliation between the university and the center would be detrimental to both.

“The University of Iowa has been a progressive and forward moving university,” said UI senior Corey Cox.

With the loss of the center, he believes the university would take a step backward.

The idea of money also sparked ire in many.

“It used to be human rights was really important to the university,” Nielson said. “Now, it’s all about money.”

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