Lee: We, too, are Iowa

BY ASHLEY LEE | MARCH 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Historically, activism has had a significant role in shaping public policy. There’s greatness in numbers, even more when students mobilize themselves. We’ve seen this recently with columns and rallies by young men and women advocating for the UI administration to properly address attitudes and policies relating to sexual assaults on campus.

That being said, there’s a rise in social activism online by college students across the country speaking out against racial microaggressions and unwelcoming campus climates.

Last fall, the University of Michigan’s Black Student Union used Twitter to share their experiences while attending a predominantly white institution  through the nationally trending hashtag #BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan).

This has initiated dialogue among other students, and organizations at several universities have echoed these sentiments in their photo and web campaigns.

While academic institutions are perceived to be progressive, liberal spaces, they really aren’t when it comes to race and cultural competency. It isn’t enough to have diversity offices and cultural centers, nor is it enough to admit people of different backgrounds to make pamphlets and fliers more colorful. Greater efforts need to be made to foster inclusion for students of color so that they are more inclined to stay, graduate, and be proud to call UI their own.

In California, an undergraduate student at UCLA created a YouTube video titled “The Black Bruins.” The spoken-word performance addresses how problematic it is when the number of NCAA championships UCLA has won exceeds the number of current black male freshmen.

UCLA law students put together a short video documentary called “33” that explores the burden of blackness in the classroom, being the spokesperson for an entire race, and how distressing and isolating it is.

#DBKGU or “Dangerous Black Kids of Georgetown University” featured photos of students with a list of accomplishments and accolades to combat anti-black prejudices amid the controversy over Stand Your Ground laws.

Just last week, Harvard students of color created an online movement and a theatrical performance, “I, Too, Am Harvard,” to counteract not being heard nor being accepted by their mostly white peers and faculty.

There is a unique set of experiences that students of color are subject to at a predominantly white institution. It’s important for white educators and students to understand that these are not isolated incidents — the ongoing ignorance and insensitivity students of color receive is something that is widespread.

The dialogue happening on campuses around the country has come to Iowa. Tuesday evening, UI’s NAACP, Center for Diversity and Enrichment, and a faculty member at University Counseling Service hosted a discussion in which both students of color and whites offered solutions in changing the racial climate.

On Wednesday, the NAACP and the UI Black Student Union invited students to participate in an “I, Too, Am Iowa” photo campaign. Pictures were uploaded to itooamiowa.tumblr.com.

But this is only the beginning.

The administration has an obligation to be more proactive and initiate programs meant to bring awareness to a majority-white space. Racial insensitivity and cultural competency need to be addressed on a systemic level.

The same way the UI administration has made it a priority to make the campus climate safer for students in the aftermath of sexual assaults, it needs to make that happen when it comes to racial insensitivity on campus.

Students of color deserve to feel safe, accepted (not tolerated), and part of the university.

We, too, are Iowa.

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