On Nov. 7, Iowa State University’s College Republicans took to Twitter to post their response to the announcement of President-elect Joe Biden. The tweet encouraged students to “arm up.”
Members of the Iowa State community were alarmed and felt threatened by the language used within this tweet. Students took to social media to share their interpretations of the tweet and how it made them feel.
Some students were shocked to learn the university’s stance on the tweet, including statements made by Iowa State Police Department (ISUPD) officers. Many students thought ISUPD downplayed the effects of the tweet, stating that it wasn’t “too alarming.”
Manuela Josipovic, freshman in animal science, said her initial reaction was feeling ashamed that someone at her school would tweet something like this.
“I definitely think they should be spoken to about certain things they are tweeting out,” Josipovic said. “I believe they should suffer some consequences because a lot of people were affected and it made us think differently about the university we’re attending, a university where everyone is supposed to feel welcome and safe.”
Josipovic said she feels the university should continue to monitor their account and their tweets and actually "do something."
“It is inappropriate to tweet these things such as saying they’re the most oppressed group on campus, because it’s honestly very embarrassing," Josipovic said. “Many people of color face racism at Iowa State and around the community every day.”
Alan Holloway, senior in music, said he immediately felt like Iowa State’s College Republicans tweet was dangerous.
“I mean, looking at the bulk of the tweets coming from the account, I would've believed it if I was told it was just some bad memes or satire,” Holloway said. “But the language in the tweet about arming up was much more serious and clearly a call to action for their followers.”
Holloway also said he believes that if the university truly wants to be as welcoming to people from marginalized communities as they claim to be, then there is no room for a "poorly disguised hate group."
“As a straight, cisgendered, white male, I can say with confidence that this group is the embodiment of white fragility,” Holloway said.
The line of First Amendment protection was blurred due to the language used within the tweet and who tweeted it.
“As an individual, if the leader of the College Republicans had tweeted this on his personal Twitter account and not as Iowa State College Republican, it would be a different issue in my opinion,” said Kelly Winfrey, assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism. “Because it was an action of a student organization, the university has grounds for action.”
Winfrey emphasized that when tweeting off of a student organization Twitter associated with Iowa State, one may give up or sacrifice their First Amendment rights, rather than if they were tweeting from a personal account, where their rights are protected.
At time of publication, the Iowa Federation of College Republicans voted to defederate Iowa State College Republicans. Iowa State administration has yet to release a statement regarding the controversial tweet.
Iowa State is no stranger to racist rhetoric, with instances occurring annually, prompting the university to take action or release statements regarding consequences and changes moving forward.
However, it has been noticed that Iowa State treats each case differently and caters punishments to each individual depending on severity of the incident and the traction it gains on social media and within the general public.
“They consistently find ways to not have to fight this battle of white supremacy or hatred, especially when it’s gender based, when it’s racially based and when it’s sexually based,” said Julian Neely, graduate student studying journalism and mass communication. “I think that is something that needs to be stated. I think they need to be held accountable, I think we need leadership that is actually going to stand up for marginalized people in any situation.”
Neely received his undergraduate degree from Iowa State and is now completing his graduate degree. During his time as an undergraduate student, Neely served on Student Government’s diversity and inclusion committee and as Student Body president during the 2018-19 academic year.
“I have sat at these tables, have sat at these conversations, this is not new behavior,” Neely said. “This is behavior I’ve seen, observed and witnessed myself.”
Neely feels that in order for proper change to be implemented, administrators must call out inappropriate behavior, suspend student organizations that consistently behave in threatening or harmful ways and the university needs to specify the differences between hate and threatening speech as well as freedom of speech regulations within the student code of conduct.
“I think that the university could more explicitly deal with the situation in its student code of conduct and other policies,” Winfrey said. “We don’t really have a good policy for how we handle things that happen online, in social media with students. I think the university’s been a little inconsistent in how they handle these different situations.”
Winfrey also serves on Greenlee’s diversity committee and as the coordinator for research and outreach at the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. Winfrey and a group of faculty members and graduate students composed a letter to administration prompting change and a call to action.
“I hope that our letter will first and foremost make sure everyone is paying attention and understands why this is problematic and also put pressure on the administration to take issues like this more seriously and from a perspective of valuing diversity and inclusion on campus,” Winfrey said.
The goals authors of the letter want to highlight are the increase in diversity, equity and inclusion training as well as the implementation of required diversity classes across all colleges within the university as a means of informing and educating students, faculty and staff of the impact of their words and actions.
“I think that this demonstrates to the administration that we’re not going to stand for this anymore, we’re not going to allow the university administration to not be accountable for all the promises that it’s made about its commitment to matters of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Lindsay Moeller, graduate student studying journalism and mass communication.
Moeller is also co-author of the letter being sent to administration, alongside Neely, Winfrey and Novotny Lawrence, associate professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism.
“We had an entire summer that our institution came out and said we support Black Lives Matter, we are against hateful rhetoric, but when presented with a real-life opportunity to do something about these kinds of actions, not something that’s hundreds of miles away, something that’s here and now, nothing has been done,” Moeller said.
Moeller is part of the LGBTQ+ community and expressed she felt unsafe when thinking about being present on campus, potentially surrounded by individuals who oppress her identity.
Lawrence feels empathy for students who felt threatened by this tweet and previous racial instances that have impacted their college experience.
“The thing that always makes me feel is very sad for the students who have not encountered it, who are just realizing how real it is and how it manifests,” Lawrence said. “And then to walk around on campus and feeling like perhaps there is no one here who is going to protect them from that. So it always makes me feel sad for them and it also makes me feel sad for staff and faculty who might feel the same way. That’s no way to have to navigate your college experience or work environment.”
Lawrence emphasized the importance of political groups keeping online content focused on the actual political topic rather than about harming the lives of others, especially marginalized groups.
“No one is frustrated about civil discussions about the Second Amendment,” Lawrence said. “Some people think we should have all kinds of guns and there are people who don’t. There are civil ways to engage in that discourse, regardless of your political affiliation. The language that we’re seeing, that’s not politics.”
One year ago in November 2019, reports were made of a swastika etched onto residence hall doors and racist stickers being placed on light poles and bus stop signs. These actions followed neo-Nazi chalkings across campus and a Student Government member wearing Blackface.
While the stickers and sketches were removed, students remained angry and hurt, anticipating the university’s response to such outspoken racism.
Students Against Racism (SAR) drafted a list of 15 demands to administrators, including the expulsion of students involved. While President Wendy Wintersteen, a university attorney and four Iowa State vice presidents met and acknowledged the list of demands, their list differed from SAR’s.
The 11-point list included promises to conduct staff, student and faculty training, restated the university administration’s condemnation of racism, plans to implement a student advisory council and hopes to reduce vandalism within the dorms.
At a later meeting, SAR claimed the university administration “didn’t address the original demands presented by the students.” The administration then added that some of the demands “cannot be met,” but promised their work “will not end with these actions” outlined within their list of demands.
Acts of expulsion and suspension didn’t occur within this instance and students within and outside of SAR were upset at the lack of action taken by university administration.
In 2017, an Iowa State freshman uploaded a photo to Snapchat next to the Black Engineering building along with racial slurs. The post had been screenshotted before mechanical engineering student Kyle Malaker was able to delete it.
Former Iowa State football linebacker and Iowa State alumnus, Willie Harvey, posted a screenshot of the photo on Twitter with the caption “Everyone associated with Iowa State University. HELP ME FIND THEIR @ NAME’S. This is not acceptable or ‘cool.’”
The screenshot was then shared on other social media platforms, gaining traction with students and student organizations alike, with Iowa State’s Black Student Alliance writing: "This will not be accepted going into this school year. This is the year of people being called out on their behavior that supports the oppression of people of color. If you don't say nothing, then who will?"
The Family Educational Rights of Privacy Act denies access regarding disciplinary action that was taken as a result of the photo posted.
At the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, the Iowa State Police Department arrested freshman Nathan Page with charges of “criminal trespass with vandalism and 3rd and 4th degree criminal mischief.”
Officers were able to pinpoint Page as a suspect after discovering a residential storage room was burglarized and vandalized with racial slurs targeting the Black community. Further damage to property and furniture within Roberts Hall was discovered by officers as well.
Iowa State’s Department of Residence and Division of Student Affairs offered support and additional resources for students who wished to take advantage of them, including the option of moving to a different residence hall and considered implementing student code of conduct changes.