Statue of KKK Members Shocks and Angers University of Iowa Students

Students at the University of Iowa were shocked and upset by a 7-foot-tall statue of a Ku Klux Klan member on the campus on Friday. The statue was placed in the university’s Pentacrest, the central heart of the campus, at 7 o’clock in the morning by visiting art professor, Serhat Tanyolacar. The artwork was removed much to the students relief when the University of Iowa Police Department found that Tanyolacar did not obtain a permit.

The looming statue was covered with newspaper clippings depicting the over 100 years of racial issues that make up our country’s history. The vinyl hooded statue also had a camera attached in an attempt to record the reaction of those viewing the art piece.

Students attending classes on Friday had a visceral reaction to Tanyolacar’s artistic attempt to start a conversation about race. They were quick to occupy the Office of the Registrar and take up residence outside of UI President Sally Mason’s office and the university’s Bijou Cinema. In a show of support for the student’s feelings and to hear what they have to say about the controversial statue, Tom Rocklin, Vice President for Student Life, and Georgina Dodge, UI’s chief diversity officer and associate vice president, attended the gathering.

The Pentacrest was recently at the center of protests in a show of support for Eric Garner and Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who were killed by police officers. In an attempt to repossess the heart of the campus, students began writing the names of victims as well as the hashtags “#BlackLivesMatter” and “#BlackHawkeyes” on the sidewalks and on posters.

President Mason released a response to the reaction of students vie email on Sunday, saying:

“Our students tell us that this portrayal made me feel unwelcomed and that they lost trust in the University of Iowa. For failing to meet our goal of providing a respectful, all-inclusive, educational environment, the university apologizes. All of us need to work together to take preventive action and do everything we can to be sure that everyone feels welcome, respected and protected on our campus and in our community.”

Tanyolacar also sent out a brief statement saying, “At this moment I have to stop giving interviews/talking to the media until I talk to a legal counselor. I apologize for lack of information.” He later tweeted a lengthy apology about the statue and his intent behind the controversial message.

Biomedical engineering student and IU sophomore, Antonio Rodriguez had this to say about the impact the statue had on students, “People were crying and some people wouldn’t come out of their classes. For me, to see that on a university campus – it was startling. It’s one thing to say he’s using this to invoke awareness about racism, but you already know people aren’t taking kindly to this, yet you still want to record us crying, so how can you justify this?”

Some students were also quick to point out Tanyolacar’s right to free speech, even if the result leaves students upset, as political science major, Bob Nettleton notes. He says, “No matter how outcast it may seem, we were blessed with the freedom to think and do what we want in this country. This social experiment was definitely interesting and it was obviously planned to get a response. I do not believe that the sculpture was racist, but rather a symbol or work of art.”

In the aftermath of the statue and the resulting conversations about race and tolerance, Mason has announced the university’s intent to form a committee to foster a healthy dialogue about the topics.

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