At Majority-White UNI, Highlighting Black History ‘Extremely Important’

Lexi Gause, a junior social work major at the University of Northern Iowa, is a co-president of the Black Student Union. (Feb. 3, 2023)

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is the state’s whitest public university and the school’s 50-year-old Black Student Union hopes to use Black History Month as a jumping-off point for several events that “open up doors for the strong and needed conversations.”

UNI’s undergraduate student population was 81.9% white in 2020, compared to 72.7% at Iowa State and 72.2% at the University of Iowa. While UNI’s student body is more diverse than the state as a whole (90.1% white), it is less diverse than the county that surrounds it (Black Hawk County was 78.4% white as of the 2020 census).

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But within those numbers is an opportunity for education, said Lexi Gause, co-president of UNI’s Black Student Union.

“There’s so many beautiful stories—it’s beauty in the struggle,” she said. “Getting educated about it, no matter what skin you’re in, is truly important [to learn] how we got to this point and how we are going to pave the way for the next generation.”

Gause, who is also a student programmer for the campus’s Center for Multicultural Education (CME), helped bring Ayanna Gregory, daughter of comedian and activist Dick Gregory, to UNI last week. Gregory presented her one-woman performance, “Daughter of the Struggle,” which she previously brought to Waterloo East High School last fall.

Gause said getting Gregory to come was “extremely important” for UNI.

“I think that it allows the campus at wide, and also the Cedar Valley, to get to see the history of Black culture unfold, and how we can all come together to open up those doors for the strong and needed conversations,” she said.

It was one of several events the Black Student Union is hosting around Black History Month. Others include:

  • Poetic Justice poetry slam, Feb. 8, 6-8 p.m., CME
  • Tunnel of Oppression, Feb. 22, 6-8 p.m., Lang Hall
  • Skate Party, Feb. 25, 6-9 p.m., Wellness and Recreation Center
  • “Just Mercy” Black Excellence Movie Showing, Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m., Kamerick Art Building Room 111
  • Toast for Change, Mar. 3, 6-8 p.m., Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center

“Just coming to events and taking that first step, and just asking questions or going the extra mile to get that information, is really important to not just the people around you but to Iowa at large,” Gause said.

With debate this year at the Iowa Legislature on what kinds of Black history should even be allowed to be taught, Gause emphasized it wasn’t just what was featured in school that mattered.

“A lot of people compare Black history to what’s being taught in textbooks, and there’s just so much more that’s involved … and that everyone should get educated on,” she said.


by Amie Rivers

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