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Panel talks race relations

BY AARON WALKER | DECEMBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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Tears were shed and voices were heard among the African American community, allies, and community members during a two-hour discussion on Monday night about the Dec. 5 KKK display.

University of Iowa students and community members shared their traumatic experiences and troubling interpretations of a 7-foot Ku Klux Klan display that was placed by Visiting Assistant Professor Serhat Tanyolacar on the Pentacrest on Dec. 5.

“When it’s in the same spot where we had the protest the night before, it was scary to wake up and see that,” said Brittney Reed, a University of Iowa junior and NAACP president on campus.

The UI asked Tanyolacar to take down the display after several hours because he did not have a permit and did not ask university officials for permission to erect the statue.

Kayla Wheeler, a UI graduate student and coordinator of events for Black Hawkeyes, said friends of theirs saw the display in the morning and feared for their lives.

Some members of the crowd maintained the belief that even though the statue, despite the artist’s intentions, did more harm than good.

“We think about the impact of what we’re producing versus our intent because a lot of things that transpire that we put out into public space have unintended consequences,” said Kendra Malone, a UI graduate and Diversity Resources coordinator.

The discussion of allies and productive communication embraced activism and explanation to create an understanding among communities.

“An ally is a person who does not hold particularly privileged identities that acts in concert with and at the lead of a group of people that do not have that privilege,” Malone said.

The trouble with being an ally, as some explained at the meeting, is the fear the voice of an ally may express experiences they cannot imagine.

“As a person of privilege, because I am white, it is very hard for me to completely identify with what it’s like to live in a place that systematically disadvantages me,” UI senior Sara Holm said.  “By speaking out, I am scared that I will undermine black leaders in our community and take away their voices by inserting my own.”

UI junior Mariah Dawson asserted that her voice would be heard either way.

“Don’t ever feel like … you’re taking my voice from me because it’s going to happen regardless,” she said. “Take that as an opportunity to start a conversation because though media likes to portray us as different images, we’re open to talk about it. I’m just as human as you.”

Some, but not the majority of students, embraced Tanyolacar’s effort to raise awareness but questioned his method and medium of communication.

“I feel like everyone still has this animosity against him,” UI sophomore Anthonie Medrano said.  “I’m pretty sure he realized and he said he apologized to everyone for upsetting people. All he needed was a thesis statement to explain it.”

Medrano said the artist’s content was correct, but his form was wrong.

As the night concluded, Tanyolacar sat without speaking in the front row. He remained optimistic about future dialogue and activism in the community.

“I’m deeply sorry for the pain,” Tanyolacar said. “I share all the pain I see today. Meanwhile, now there’s a dialogue. My whole intention was this. I’m sad, but at the same time I’m very happy. As a faculty, I came here to be an activist. Now, I think there is a chance to be accepted or to be an ally or to heal all of these kids’ feelings.”


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