Discussion ponders race at UI


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What it means to be African American and racial understanding is an important topic all year round, said students at Thursday’s discussion at the University of Iowa African American Cultural Center.

“The university should be producing more communication and discussion on racial understanding for everyone,” said Maggie Butler, a UI Ph.D. student. “Meetings like this should not just occur during Black History Month.”

The African American Cultural Center held an open discussion that emphasized “what it means to be black.” The discussion is held annually during February in honor of Black History Month.

The session was open to anyone and was facilitated by Tawanda Owens, a graduate student and assistant at the cultural center.

Attendees expressed personal incidents that ranged from racial ostracizing to forced assimilation of African-American students.

The objective of the meeting was to assist students in understanding themselves as individuals through group discussion, regardless of race, Owens said.

“One of the main issues experienced by African-American students here at Iowa is micro-aggression conveyed by both students and faculty,” Owens said. “The university should be taking greater efforts to educate its students and faculty on racial understanding.”

When asked on whether Iowa City could improve on its racial and cultural appreciation, Butler said the city is fine in terms of its tolerance of race, but there needs to be a greater understanding of race and culture in Iowa City.

UI student Shawn Boursiquot said there have been growing cases of micro-aggression among students and faculty toward the African-American community.

“It’s difficult to communicate with people without being identified for my race,” he said. “I’m tired of being the guy that everyone looks to for information on African Americans; I want to simply be respected as an individual.”

Nearly all attendants at the meeting expressed concern that life at the university needs to be more conducive to students of different races, and they should not feel pressured to assimilate to the cultural norm.

At the meeting, legislation to increase diversity education among faculty members was praised. 

“Cases of micro-aggression and stereotyping against students is a systematic problem,” Owens said. “Parents and faculty need to be educated so that we can eliminate issues like this in the future and make Iowa City a better environment.”

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