The University of Northern Iowa's president is forming a committee to address minority and other students' allegations of systemic racism on the Cedar Falls campus — allegations widely shared in a social media campaign.
President Mark Nook took responsibility in a recent letter to the university community for the school's failure to adequately fulfill goals set by an ad hoc student group and backed by the student government.
"I want to personally apologize for this, for the message this situation sent to our campus, and for the frustration and distrust felt by these students," Nook wrote. "While we have made some progress, we have focused too often on managing expectations and making changes on the margins."
He said the President's Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Advisory Committee will be composed of teachers, other staffers and students. Its goal will be to create a diversity, inclusion and equity action plan to "provide a clear set of priorities to create the needed systemic change to our culture."
Nook's action follows a social media campaign of criticism by the student group Racial and Ethnic Coalition, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.
Among other things, the coalition posted video testimonials from minority students talking about problems they have had on campus, including dealing with a racist professor or trying to navigate university diversity policies.
Coalition member Mahlia Brown said the university's handling of a hip-hop concert reignited long-simmering concerns about treatment of minorities on a campus on which the student body is more than 80% white.
Brown and others shared their concerns with Nook and other administrators following the cancellation of public ticket sales for the campus-sponsored February concert featuring rapper Waka Flocka Flame.
Nook told students that law enforcement officials had shared with the university concerns about potential gang activity, but students later were told that police had no information about such activity at the concert.
The coalition formed in the weeks after the concert, and it agreed on six short-term goals, which the student government approved for submission to Nook. The list included how to report acts of bias and raising support for campus multicultural organizations.
The coalition earlier this fall sent a resolution of complaint to the student government when coalition members didn't see the progress they wanted on the goals.
"We were very frustrated," said coalition member Ryan Frank.
Nook said in response that some of the goals that hadn't been met by September had been achieved by an Oct. 16 meeting with students but apparently not in the way students had been expecting.
The coalition responded by launching its social media campaign, which it dubbed with a hashtag: #UNIisNotAnAlly.