Editor's Note: A quote has been updated to include the correct date of 1958 as the source misspoke.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) and Iowa Student Action had a meeting with Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen on Thursday to discuss giving a budget to corporations that are not good for Iowans, however, student organizers also took the opportunity to call Iowa State’s administration out on racism on campus, both past and present.
The meeting was set up in order to speak about public funding that is going out to companies — such as Roeslein Alternative Energy and Smithfield Foods — that do not have Iowa and Iowa State folx best interest at heart, according to Iowa CCI and Iowa Student Action.
Students also brought up how the concept of public funding is intertwined with racism and racial issues at Iowa State.
Jennah Ramadan, a freshman in biology, spoke about how her safety felt threatened as a marginalized student due to recent tweets made by Iowa State’s College Republicans a few weeks ago.
This was brought up following the comments made by Iowa State University’s College Republicans that mentioned “arming up,” alarming many marginalized students at Iowa State.
Ramadan said the goal for the meeting was to speak out about the public funding plans the Iowa State administration has, as it does not hold the best interest of students, specifically marginalized students.
“Big corporations are going to make Iowa State wealthier, but with mis-public funding it will make the institution richer with more or less diversity,” Ramadan said.
Ramadan said public funding should be going toward making campus safer for students and providing more valid resources for students who are marginalized. She explained that at an institution like Iowa State, she feels unsafe on campus and should not feel that way, and she has found it unacceptable that racist acts have continued at Iowa State.
Alexa Rodriguez, a junior in political science, reiterated later in the meeting that along with Ramadan, she does not feel safe on campus, and that the resources Iowa State provides will not change that feeling. She responded to Wintersteen’s comment about how the topic of racism is a different topic from public funding.
“I am very appalled that you would say that the way we use public funds is not related to race in any way,” Rodriguez said. “As we know public funds very rarely fund people of color and students of color.”
Somerle Rhiner, a junior in sociology and women’s and gender studies, said she also felt discomfort toward racism on campus, specifically regarding the tweets written by Iowa State College Republicans.
“My reaction to the tweets they posted concerned me,” Rhiner said. “Once I told people in my life who care about me, they were immediately scared for my safety on campus. I was concerned but knowing my loved ones were concerned for me too made me be more cautious. Personally, being a marginalized student on campus and you see threats like this makes you feel uncomfortable on campus.
“I'm already uncomfortable on campus but when events like this happen, it makes me put up my guard again. Whenever or not that Trump or Biden came into office, I would still be scared of what outcomes and what that means to be a Black student on campus.”
However, even with the concern regarding these tweets by staff and students, Wintersteen said those tweets fall under the First Amendment and Iowa State’s administration can’t do anything about it.
“That situation was truly related to the First Amendment,” Wintersteen said. “I can provide more information about our position on that. Free speech is integral to this country's democracy, and we will not do anything to condemn the ability of an individual to have free speech.”
This response was not well-received during the meeting, nor when publicly stated. When this response was released publicly, staff at Iowa State were upset by the university's response and students responded negatively as well.
Rhiner said she expected the response from the university, but it disappointed her nonetheless.
“Honestly, the university reaction is what I expected, they never really do anything to protect students of color or marginalized students,” Rhiner said. “We are at risk and they send out their 'get better' emails as if that is the way to support students. I believe that they should pay more attention and create spaces for marginalized students. While we have places for students to go with COVID-19 that is not currently possible.
“However, I believe that they shouldn't recommend students to report these incidents to the police because it seems so incentive. Also, I don't feel like people of color or marginalized students should be creating the solutions because every time we give a suggestion, it is never considered. Our voices aren't heard when we ask for support through training and banning clubs that support violence.”
Rhiner said this is to be expected as Iowa State as an institution has a history of racism and white supremacy at the university.
A photo from Iowa State’s yearbook in 1958 has recently come to light, which displays the fraternity Delta Tau Delta in what appears to be Ku Klux Klan hoods.
“My reaction to the frat pictures was disheartening,” Rhiner said. “It bothers me because this is what Iowa State University is. It bothers me because these are students' grandparents. The racism that was in 1958 is no different than in 2020. It hurts me a lot but it's something that I'm not surprised that happened.”
Rhiner said a history of racism, tokenization and white supremacy have affected institutions like Iowa State for years. She said administration allows racist acts to happen on campus, yet tokenize figures like George Washington Carver and Jack Trice while also erasing important aspects of history out of discussions about white supremacy.
“I believe it's hard for these administrators to say these things because our donors are big and probably Republican and support the ideologies that are presented on campus,” Rhiner said. “However, I believe that students should be your main priority no matter who is lining your pockets. Students of color and other marginalized communities matter. We should be your focus and who you attend your attention to. We don't feel your support. If we as students are hearing these words coming from Wendy's mouth to know that she doesn't support this and that she stands next to us as students."
Toward the end of the Iowa CCI, Iowa Student Action and Wintersteen meeting, Wintersteen declined to meet for further discussion about public funding and said further discussion about marginalized students' safety will need to be petitioned to speak about at a later date.
“To President Wintersteen, I wish she would listen more, instead of pushing me to go to other resources,” Ramadan said. “She is doing this instead of giving me the ability to talk to her. She is the president of this institution and she has the ability to condemn these acts instead of letting other people do her work for her.”