Leaders within the Iowa State community discussed the ways the university can address social justice reform in a virtual forum, Tuesday.
The forum was organized by Iowa State Student Government and was livestreamed on YouTube.
Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen, Dean of Students Sharron Evans, Iowa State Police Chief Michael Newton, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Reg Stewart, Black Student Alliance President India Robinson and Student Body President Morgan Fritz participated in the forum.
Student Body Vice President Jacob Schrader facilitated the forum. The first topic centered around the current factors that exist on campus to create social justice imbalances.
“The first is de facto segregation,” Stewart said. “That’s the policies, practices, procedures that keep people in specific spaces that are not necessarily regulated by law, but de facto segregation was what created these inner city communities it created. It created a phenomenon of people really being holed up and sequestered in spaces. So when I say that faculty, staff, de facto segregation, when you look at the disproportionate amount of faculty and staff of color, particularly on predominantly white campuses, they're almost exclusively concentrated working on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. So the de facto segregation piece means that those same voices aren't at all of the other decision-making processes, which could improve your university. So if you take out or you only put the talent pool in one specific phenomenon or area, then you don't see the value of having a diverse workforce.”
The forum also touched on the removal of a plaque that was dedicated to the work of William Temple Hornaday, an Iowa State alumnus and the first director of the Bronx Zoo.
Hornaday also featured Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy and a Black man, in the Monkey House of the Bronx Zoo. During the weekend in September of 1906, Benga lived in the Monkey House with an orangutan as an exhibit that was set up by Hornaday.
A rock plaque was placed on the Iowa State campus south of LeBaron Hall in 1927 and removed Thursday.
“I was extremely proud of the fact that this was brought to our attention by students and to underscore that," Wintersteen said."I want to also recognize our collective that is Students Against Racism that the Office of Equal Opportunity in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion have been meeting with Students Against Racism, really since the pandemic since we all went to these virtual platforms to continue the conversation so I don't want anybody to think that because we've been remote that we haven't been working with student voices our student activists, and this is another manifestation of it, we're ready to get to work on it."
Wintersteen addressed the removal in an email, which she said she created a committee focused on a formal renaming policy and process for current plaques and historic monuments on campus. Wintersteen said she and Faculty Senate President Carol Faber will talk about the composition of the committee this week and next.
“We want to make sure that the campus is represented well on this committee, our faculty, our staff, our students,” Wintersteen said. “So it will ensure through its work that we examine historic naming and honoring decisions in a consistent and well thought out process with well-defined standards. We mentioned sure that these principles uphold the university's high standards of integrity and commitment to academic freedom and our aspiration to becoming the best way in great universities in the nation in creating a welcoming and inclusive campus. [...] Here we had a tremendous response from faculty and professional staff inquiring about it so within the past week, the number of emails that I've gotten on it.”
The committee will review the renaming process that Stanford University has as well as other universities to help Iowa State create a formal renaming policy. After the committee makes a recommendation, the developed policy will allow the university to examine the Hornaday plaque and other historic naming and honoring decisions in a consistent and well-thought-out process with well-defined standards that can be applied when issues arise.
Additionally, Schrader asked Newton about the actions the Iowa State Police Department has taken to reduce bias and violence and what their future plans are keep the students safe.
“We've had a rich tradition of really pushing our training, making sure that officers are engaged in that training process, and a number of years ago we expanded our annual bias training for officers to make sure that everybody — not just our police officers — but the entire Department of Public Safety was getting more in the area of bias training,” Newton said. “In December, we held for all of our supervisors, a training called racial intelligence, and that training was a one of many that we plan on doing into the future, that really got people to think differently and think about really focusing on workplace culture, campus culture and what our role is when we think through bias incidents.”
The Iowa State and Ames community also submitted questions to the forum, one of them asked how they could help Black and Brown students achieve equity on campus.
“I really, really, really need you to educate yourself,” Stewart said. “There's a lot of internet talk on this is being very mindful not to walk up to someone and say 'hey I really want to be involved what books should I read?' Take some initiative. Use Google, use Siri, use Alexa, ask for the recommended reading list right. Because the reality is if I want to learn more about the Greek or Roman empire I don't call the history department and ask them for what book to read you know, I use some natural motivation and inquiry to go do this. So part of what this is saying is you have to be a participant in the society. And so we're talking about Black lives and Black engagement, but this really means be part of the conversation. You don't get to be a warrior anymore. You don't get to be a fly on the wall and just watch this unfold — you actually have to dig in. And part of that is educating yourself, there are phenomenal books to educate yourself but I would love it if you came to me and said 'I just finished reading this, what do you think' as opposed to ‘what books should I read.’”