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Mason to create cultural advisory group

BY REBECCA MORIN | DECEMBER 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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On Dec. 6, in the wake of a controversial art display on the Pentacrest, students and community members asked, “Where is Sally Mason?”

A day later, she responded.

In a statement issued Sunday, University of Iowa President Sally Mason said she will create an advisory committee to help with cultural competency. In addition, she will begin meeting with students Wednesday to gather feedback after some said the UI did not respond adequately to the controversial display.

“The effects of the display were felt throughout the Iowa City community,” Mason said in a statement. “That display immediately caused black students and community members to feel terrorized and to fear for their safety.”

Some students said they were pleased with Mason’s statement, and they look forward to creating a dialogue with university officials.

“Ultimately, it sounded like a pretty good message,” UI junior Mariah Dawson said. “I was impressed with the details that it said, that students of the community was offended by it. I was impressed with the university’s initiative to state all of the details, that it didn’t try to sugarcoat anything.”

On Dec. 5, a display of a 7-foot figure that many observers said resembled a Ku Klux Klan figure, which had a camera that recorded viewers’ initial responses, showed up on the Pentacrest. Serhat Tanyolacar, a 2014-15 UI printmaking fellow, placed the display at 7 a.m. Dec. 5.

UI officials asked Tanyolacar to take down the display after several hours. Students and community members said they felt threatened by the display and were terrified.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Dawson said. “Less than 24 hours before, there was a peaceful rally, and then for that statue to be there. I didn’t know what was going on, and if the KKK was here, and if they were trying to make a point to the community.”

Tanyolacar, however, said he put up the display because Iowa City is such a liberal town and wanted to initiate a dialogue about racism being alive in today’s society.

“I’m displaying the horrifying truth, the fact of racism,” he told The Daily Iowan. “I understand this is a really touchy subject, and maybe it’s a really, really touchy time, but meanwhile, I think we should all be a little more open-minded [with discussing racism].”

The UI College of Liberal Arts and Science Twitter account initially tweeted at around 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 5 about the displaying, calling it “guerilla art.”

On Sunday afternoon, liberal-arts-school strategic-communications director Nic Arp issued a public apology through a series of tweets about the Dec. 5 tweets on the school’s Twitter account.

Black leaders, faculty, community members, and allies responded to the display by trying to reclaim the Pentacrest and prominent university spaces, such as the T. Anne Cleary Walkway and Jessup Hall, by posting signs and creating chalk art. Outlines of bodies were speckled between such phrases as “#BlackHawkeyes,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Breathing is a Right.”

“Our students tell us that this portrayal made them feel unwelcomed and that they lost trust in the University of Iowa,” Mason said. “All of us need to work together to take preventive action and do everything we can to be sure that everyone feels welcome, respected, and protected on our campus and in our community.”


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