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Political Mercury

ISU president: I ‘underestimated’ racism on campus

10/7/2015

“You’re Mexican!”
“Go back to Univision!”
“You probably don’t pay taxes!”

A 27-year-old Latina Iowa State University graduate student said these were just some of the taunts that greeted her and other political protesters outside the Cy-Hawk football game last month in Ames.

Maria Alcivar, the student and a representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens, joined other activists in challenging Donald Trump’s comments on immigration during the GOP front-runner’s visit to the annual cross-state gridiron rivalry Sept. 12.

Outside Jack Trice Stadium, in the mid-afternoon before the game, angry tailgaters tore down signs, hurled slurs and threw beer tabs and spent beer cans at the roughly 30 to 40 college students, activists and their supporters gathered to protest Trump, not just on immigration, but on women’s and veterans’ issues, Monica Reyes, a 24-year-old University of Northern Iowa senior who was at the game, said.

“Right away, going in, I could sense the negative energy there,” Reyes said in a phone interview.

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Reyes, who grew up in New Hampton, lives in Waterloo and is working for a major bank as she completes her degree in sociology, heard calls for Latinos like her to “Go back where you came from!”

The game-day incident, which garnered national media attention, led Iowa State University officials to hold a forum last Wednesday night in conjunction with several student groups there focused on diversity and tolerance.

Alcivar, speaking to the crowd of more than 600 people at ISU’s Memorial Union, described how a white woman emerged from a tailgate area, grabbed her face and screamed, “You don’t belong here.”

“Students at Iowa State University feel unsafe, discriminated against and unwelcome,” Alcivar said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Monica Diaz, a 21-year-old civil engineering student from Chicago, said she knows many minority students who are considering leaving the university because of what they believe is a hostile environment to diversity.

“We can’t travel in large groups because of our peers staring us down,” Diaz said.

ISU President Steven Leath — who said one of his own problems might be that he is “race blind” and deals with people as individuals — accepted some of the blame for the concerns of the students.

“Honestly, I underestimated the issue that many of you have,” Leath said.

Leath said the episode at the ISU-Iowa game doesn’t reflect the values of the university.

“It came as a shock to me that that would happen in the Iowa State University community,” Leath said.

Reyes, the co-founder of DREAM Iowa, a volunteer group that works to organize nearly 20,000 undocumented immigrants living in Iowa, said multiple white fans tried to rip down the Trump protesters’ primary red-and-white sign that read, “Students Against Bigotry.”

She had flashbacks to history classes and images of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“It kind of felt like that, not as extreme as sitting at a lunch counter and having stuff poured over me,” Reyes said.

During the more-than-two-hour forum, students and their advocates asked the university for a variety of remedies to racism, including: a more responsive and diverse campus police department, better prevention programs, increased diversity in the faculty and student ranks, student center improvements for minorities and greater inclusiveness in the university’s art collection and building naming designations. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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