AP NEWS

University of Iowa to respond to students’ Twitter campaign

March 16, 2019

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — University of Iowa officials are still grappling with the aftermath of a promotional social media campaign co-opted by students.

The Twitter-based campaign aimed to showcase what the Hawkeye community loves about the University of Iowa, utilizing the tag #iloveUIowa. Early on, most responses lauded the sense of family and community found on campus.

But on a Monday night in late February, a growing number of students responded to the #iloveUIowa campaign with their own #DoesUIowaLoveMe campaign. These tweets tended to focus on times students felt they were discriminated against or felt alienated on the Iowa City campus. Concerns ranged from students holding anti-immigrant signs on campus to allegations of mishandled sexual assault reports to a professor who is said to have allowed Vietnamese people to be referred to as a racial slur.

One by one, University of Iowa officials have made their way through these tweets in a series of long meetings, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.

“The students sharing their concerns, and quite frankly some of the painful experiences that they had, was absolutely difficult to hear,” said Melissa Shivers, vice president for Student Life.

Shivers said Student Life staff met with some students behind the campaign on Feb. 27, two days after the tweets started rolling in. That evening, 60-70 faculty and staff started making their way through #DoesUIowaLoveMe tweets. They met again recently.

Shivers said the group planned to meet before Spring Break starts on March 17 to identify appropriate responses. Student Life officials will also meet with students involved in the campaign before the end of the month.

Administrators, including Shivers, were also present when more than 100 crowded unto the T. Anne Cleary walkway on Feb. 28, to air their concerns on campus.

So far the meetings with UI officials have been emotional, said Tristan Schmidt, one of the students behind the campaign. He said administrators seemed caught off guard by the responses, but supportive.

Schmidt said the whole experience was surprising, but not for the responses #DoesUIowaLoveMe solicited.

“What surprised me was how far it spread is such a small amount of time,” Schmidt said.

The stories themselves are common, Schmidt said. With #DoesUIowaLoveMe, students voiced concerns with colleagues, professors and administrators.

Some students expressed anger at the reception they received on campus after sharing accounts of sexual assault. One student said they were not referred to a counselor or support group after being sexually assaulted, adding that an adviser urged the student to “move on.” Another Twitter user said peers laughed and accused him of seeking attention when he shared his account of sexual assault.

Others detailed concerns with professors. One student referred to “gendered power dynamics” in the Iowa Writer’s workshop. Another Twitter user lamented her professor and teaching assistant thinking it was “ok to refer to Vietnamese people” as a racial slur after watching a documentary on the My Lai Massacre. Another recounted a professor calling her a “ditzy blonde” and telling her she was smarter than she looked.

One Twitter user said he was asked to portray a studying student in a university marketing photo shoot, but not with his laptop — he said the rainbow pride stickers on the computer were deemed “too controversial.”

Schmidt argues students are paying to attend the University of Iowa, and subsequently deserve a space to feel safe and belonging.

“It happens to them not just once and in a while. It happens daily,” Schmidt said. “The university should be taking proactive steps. Not reactive.”

The campaign comes as the university finalizes its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action plan, which is intended to allow for better monitoring of diversity and campus climate and to help ensure people of all social identities feel supported.

The plan, which has been in the works for more than a year now, will be announced April 4th.

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/