Stugov Multicultural town hall

Student Government hosted their fall semester multicultural town hall Oct. 4 at the Multicultural Center in the Memorial Union. 

Iowa State University Student Government heard from students about the lack of accessibility to resources and how to improve disparities among minoritized students on campus, during their multicultural town hall Monday.

Director of Diversity and Inclusion Alejandra Flores Renteria, a senior in political science and history and Director of Outreach Christian Grensteiner, a sophomore majoring in event management began planning for the first fall semester town hall over the summer. The Student Government bylaws now require at least one town hall to take place every semester. 

Flores served as international student council president in the previous school year, during which she spoke with multicultural clubs about the lack of space for them to voice concerns. In Student Government Senate meetings there is a time for public forums where students can address the Student Government. As part of procedural rules, the senators are unable to respond to students as it is a time intended to listen to constituents. 

Flores and Grensteiner decided there needed to be a time and space for discussion. Members of Student Government asked the audience questions on how they could better represent multicultural students. 

Alyannah Buhman is a junior majoring in criminal justice. She is also a peer mentor and as a scholar for the George Washington Carver Academy, while also serving on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee on the Student Senate. 

Buhman said the supportive spaces for multicultural and international students are spread out on campus, making them hard to access. Multicultural Student Services is in the Student Services building near State Gym, while the George A. Jackson Black Cultural Center can be found off-campus on Welch towards Wallace and Wilson residence halls. 

Attendees of the town hall agreed while there are a multitude of resources available, because they are so spread out, international and multicultural students can’t reap the benefits as easily.

“Creating spaces that are more centralized so students of color, not only students of color but students of marginalized communities, is very important because it can promote a very safe, comfortable, social learning environment,” Buhman said. “So the students can live and feel supported on campus.”

Iowa State Student Government President Julia Campbell, a senior majoring in agricultural business said the University is in the process of relocating some offices currently stationed in the Memorial Union which would open up spaces for some student services to be more centrally located.

In the honors housing in Martin Hall on Starbuck floor a whiteboard drawing in a common room was altered to depict the Klu Klux Klan crucifying a Black man, with the words “white supremacy” written on it.

Because this isn’t the first time a racially charged offense has occurred on campus, members attending the town hall echo a long call for accountability. 

“President Wintersteen sent out a statement, but nothing happened, the Board of Regents virtually did nothing and Student Government virtually did nothing as well,” Buhman said. “Many times students of color feel very othered on campus and it feels like we are shouting into an endless void trying to get your attention.”

Flores said she is trying to meet with faculty and staff, especially in resident life, to ask what the current plan is to ensure accountability when these incidents do occur. 

When asked how well Student Government represents the needs of multicultural students, Buhman said there has been improvement from this year to last but there is still a lack of diversity. 

United Residents of Off-Campus Sen. Daniel Hayes, a senior majoring in political science, encourages people of color to run Student Government to ensure their voices are heard. 

Victoria Reyna-Rodriguez, a senior in journalism and mass communications, said students of color may not want to run for positions within Student Government because the lack of representation is discouraging. 

“While I do recognize you can’t fill seats that people aren’t applying for, people of color aren’t going to apply for something that they feel is a system that is completely against them, where they are seeing lack of representation, where they feel like they might be the only person of color to begin with,” Reyna-Rodriguez said. “It is mortifying to go into a room and be the only person of color in that room, especially somewhere like Student Government or somewhere that holds a system of power.”

Campbell said Student Government is also working to provide more information about Student Government elections earlier in the year so people can feel comfortable with the election cycle. 

Students also addressed experiencing microaggressions from professors. Reynna-Rodriguez said this year is the second time they dropped a sociology class because racist comments from an instructor. Buhman has Type one Diabetes, and at times she needs to leave class to manage her glucometer. Buhman said some professors have treated this as an inconvenience to them and even prevented her from leaving class. 

Iowa State does send professor surveys at the end of each semester. Hayes proposed for those who feel the surveys are insufficient for results to go to administration, and if that fails, seek public pressure to get changeable results. 

Campbell attends to include the discussion from the town hall in her meeting with Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen and other administrators. Some tangibles for Student Government to accomplish is the sharing of student information and resources to ensure students who need those services can. 

Because Iowa State is a public institution, when offensive chalking or posts happen on campus the University can’t take any action because hate speech is protected under the First Amendment. Since students can’t be directly involved in this decision making process, Campbell said she hopes to provide better information on what factors went into administrative decisions.

After successful discussion, Flores said Student Government plans to look and see if their budget can manage to host another town hall in the fall semester.

“For anyone who feels underrepresented or minoritized, there is a space for them,” Flores said. “Student Government and the Diversity and Inclusion committee wants to hear you, wants to represent you and wants to make sure your concerns are answered. Whether it is coming to a town hall or writing an email, we want to help people.”

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