Rushing: Iowa State president said the quiet part out loud

Ty Rushing

By Ty Rushing

April 26, 2024

I want to thank Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen for doing us all a favor by finally saying the quiet part out loud: all the pushback on diversity is about protecting whiteness above all.

While speaking to the Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday during a discussion on how all three regent universities are defunding and eliminating their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices thanks to Iowa Republicans, Wintersteen let the cat out of the bag.

“So one of the first things we did was establish learning communities so that a young man—young white man—from rural Iowa, could come and be in a learning community and find the place where they could belong,” she said.

To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with making sure that someone finds a place where they fit in and are comfortable, but Wintersteen said these remarks as she talked about eliminating the DEI office on a campus that’s 71.2% white and where white males are the student body majority.

The purpose of DEI offices is to ensure people of every race, creed, nationality, religion, sexuality, gender, mental or physical ability can get a fair shake and appropriate accommodations at their school or workplace, and feel seen and represented in those spaces.

That’s it. Seriously.

However, DEI has been twisted into this wink-wink, nudge-nudge slur by people who don’t like seeing people who don’t look and/or think like them be validated and supported. And when you call them out on this, they’ll use a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote as a shield for their bigotry.

Some of the perpetrators of the anti-DEI crusade in schools will tell you it’s about “fiscal responsibility” and “getting back to the basic fundamentals of education,” which we all know is a lie, but they typically stick to the script. President Wintersteen let the mask slip.

To be Black (or other) in America, you need to know how to read between the lines as you navigate spaces where you are in the minority, which is in most spaces and places, especially when you live in say Iowa. So when the anti-CRT turned anti-woke turned anti-DEI pushback first started, most Black people knew it was really about anti-Blackness.

The fact that these attacks really ramped up after 2020—you remember when we had that one summer where we honestly talked about race and racism against Black people in this country—is no coincidence.

Those conversations made some white people uncomfortable. So rather than address the systemic issues that prompted them, many of those leaders decided the best course of action was for us to collectively bury our heads in the sand while also actively rolling back initiatives that try to fix the problems.

The elimination of DEI at our state universities, the “divisive concepts” law that some people interpret as banning discussion about anything related to Black people in public schools, and the upcoming elimination of the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans are just a handful of many examples.

And here in Iowa (and nationally in red states) it’s not just Black folks who are under attack by the people who are in charge of our state government.

I’ve watched several legislative sessions in a row in which Republican lawmakers have introduced and implemented numerous anti-LGBTQ bills that do everything from trying to ban gay marriage to an attempt to strip civil protections from trans people.

One of the most difficult parts of the 2023 legislative session was watching trans kids and their families plead with lawmakers to just leave them alone, only for those same elected officials to pass legislation to kick them out of school bathrooms, prevent them from receiving health care, and police their chosen names.

Latino immigrants are hosting “human dignity” rallies in four Iowa cities on May 1 to protest a bill that would turn local law enforcement agencies into quasi-Immigration and Customs Enforcement brigades under the guise of Iowa being a “border state.”

Public schools continue to be underfunded and placed under a microscope and public libraries around the state had to rally to prevent attempts to defund them and eliminate local library boards because some people want certain books banned.

I could go on, but there are far too many examples.

The lawmakers who introduce and support these various types of legislation scoff and feign offense when people call them out about the intent of their bills and the people whom they would affect, but we see through it. And thanks to President Wintersteen, we can hear it too.

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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