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A history of diversity: Iowa State over the years

Perhaps discrimination never quite disappears.

It hides in the shadows of sly remarks or in certain privileges given or not given to someone based on the color of their skin. It hides in the grimacing stereotypes that live in the punchlines of jokes, ability to apply for jobs or go to school.

Former Iowa State student Clem Eyo, in a 1975 Iowa State Daily article said, “I am a man and black too, and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world.

“Pitched to the brink of indignation to avenge the unjust and undignified African people and Black races all over the world, I try to find where I fit in the revolutionary struggle.”

For some, the heart of Iowa, surrounded by tall cornfields and the sweet smiles of passersby, is known as home. Others, however, are met with scattered glances, a sense that they are creating fear, and a feeling that stretches far and wide: They don’t belong.

It’s more than a feeling, however, for students of color at Iowa State; they have been dealing with racial issues for as long as the university has existed. From George Washington Carver, the first black student to attend Iowa State, to Jack Trice, the first black athlete to play for Iowa State, and even today, students of color have had to pave their own path to equality.

From ISU’s foundation in 1858 to its first class in 1869, Iowa State has been recognized as a land-grant university, which enables the ideal that higher education should be accessible to all. This has allowed students of color to attend Iowa State from the start.

However, black students attending the university, by unofficial policy, were not allowed to room with students who did not share their same skin tone. This made it difficult for students to attend the university because there were few places to live.

“Negro students are entirely welcome at this institution; they have no discourtesy whatever shown them by fellow students or others. It is not always easy for a Negro student to find rooming and boarding accommodations,” wrote Albert Storms, former ISU president, to a colleague in 1910.

Hence, after Carver attended the university in the 1890s, another black student wouldn’t graduate from Iowa State until 1904, and it would be another 10 years before the third black student to attend Iowa State would graduate in 1914.

So although the issue was recognized, little was done to change the system. Students of color were still facing disadvantages that would set them back in their hopes of earning a degree.


Archie and Nancy Martin, however, were two Ames residents who acknowledged this issue and rose to resolve the problem.

Six years after settling into Ames after moving from Georgia, Archie and Nancy built a house in 1919 on 218 Lincoln Way. This house would become home to at least 20 black students in the early 1900s, as they found residence on the second floor for many years to come.

The Martins also had 12 children of their own, but this did not stop them from opening up their second floor to company, which contained three bedrooms and a bath.

Some of the students to reside at the Martins’ house included James Bowman, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen, and Samuel Massie, who worked on the Manhattan Project and went on to become the first black professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Former roomers even recalled that the Martins also served as mentors and enforced a studious atmosphere in the house, according to ameshistory.org.

Martin Hall, located on the West end of campus in the Union Drive neighborhood, was named in their honor in 2004.


Almost 100 years after the Martins first housed African-American students, DeLores and Vern Hawkins sat on the white couch in their home at the end of the fall 2015 semester, Christmas decorations adorning the living room. It had been nearly 40 years since they attended Iowa State University.

Vern and Delores Hawkins stand under the Campanile. The couple met by Lake Laverne in the 1960s while attending Iowa State.
“I’m not really sure I could characterize it,” Vern said. “Keep in mind that we were college students, and I figured I knew everything about everything. If the world would have just listened to me. I [thought I] could solve the world's problems.”

The Christmas tree spun peacefully in circles, as the small thump of beads hanging from the lowest branch hit Christmas presents perfectly wrapped by Vern.

DeLores, Iowa State alumna and retired director of financial aid at Des Moines Area Community College, discussed how she fell into her future in Ames on a split-second decision while on her way home from school in Chicago.

Getting a ride home from school one day during her senior year of high school, DeLores, her cousin, and some friends made an unexpected stop, for DeLores at least.

Her friends were going to take a test that was run by an agency to help minority students get into college. DeLores tagged along so that she would avoid having to take the bus or walk the two miles home.

DeLores, who already thought she had her future planned -- go to the University of Chicago and become a teacher -- said, “I’m not gonna wait in the car. I’m going to go in, too.”

After taking the test, DeLores would become a part of what she refers to as the “Iowa State 8,” as the Iowa State Daily called the “Chicago Pilot” program, in which the first inner-city minority students were recruited to Iowa State.

DeLores lived with a few other students a few blocks from her own home that next summer. The agency was testing to see if she and the other minority students would be compatible in a college environment.

Developing a routine, the students would get up in the morning, do chores and attend seminars for about a month. This was when DeLores finally received a phone call from an unexpected observer, Iowa State University.

Her parents, meeting with a representative, discussed opportunities for DeLores, and it was then that she decided that Iowa State would become her new home.

“I decided to try it. I mean, away from home, really away from home,” DeLores said, drawing out the sentence. “It sounded attractive to me.”


When DeLores first arrived at Iowa State, she stayed with faculty and administration who were willing to house the recruited African-American students. Including DeLores, there were only five African-American women during her first year.

“Initially it wasn’t [welcoming,]” DeLores said, adding that she fought between homesickness and change, but ISU did become a welcoming place for her later, she said.

It might have had something to do with another of DeLores’ memories, one of which she’s extremely proud.

There was one young man who had stayed with the other students that summer who had not been admitted to Iowa State. Some believed that black students were held to different academic requirements, but that wasn’t the case.

“And so he wasn’t admitted,” DeLores said of her friend. “We had been together that summer, and we weren’t activists. But we just said, ‘well, why can’t this individual go?’”

The young man attended community college at the time. He was raised in a single-family home where he helped support his mom and younger siblings, then attended school at night. So his grades didn’t meet the required 2.0 GPA to transfer.

“We all said that if he wasn’t given an opportunity, we’ll go our separate ways, and they [admissions] said, ‘We’ll take him,’” DeLores recalled. “And he was the first one among us to graduate.”

“I’ve always been very, very proud of that,” DeLores said. “Our futures were at stake, and we all just knew it was the right thing to do.”


Before the 350-mile move to Ames that summer of 1968, DeLores remembers telling her mom, “Oh, I probably will graduate in three years, because there’s nothing to do in Iowa. I won’t meet a husband, and I’ll just be studying and then I’ll be gone.”

She and Vern then laughed at this memory, knowing it was far from the truth. Delores continued, looking over at Vern, who was sitting a few feet away.

“And then my first day on campus I met Vern. He didn’t know then that he was going to be my husband.”

“But she did,” Vern said.

Vern worked for Iowa State for 42 years. Moving from Des Moines in 1967, Vern would call Ames home for every next important moment of his life -- from his marriage proposal on the steps of Curtiss Hall, to the birth of his son Curtis, and his and DeLores’ 40th wedding anniversary at the Iowa State alumni center, and everything that fell in between.

An athlete -- track, specifically -- and English major, Vern graduated for the “first” time in 1972, and once again in 2014, when he retired as assistant director for enrollment services.

Vern was crucial in starting a program to recruit minority students to Iowa State, and he recalled the university being accepting to ideas brought forth by students.

Black students, particularly black athletes, were essential in starting a project Vern called “Project 400.” The students went to the administration with a list of demands in 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. They had one big idea in mind: to recruit 400 minority students to Iowa State.

These list of demands later became known as the Eight Grievances. These requests included, to be called “black” or “Afro-American” instead of “Negro,” and they demanded that the school hire more black coaches and administrators and remove the coaches who refused to recruit black athletes.

Two football players dropped out of school over the issue. One of them was the vice president of ISU’s Black Student Organization, according to Lane Demas in his book, “Integrating the Gridiron: Black Civil Rights and American College Football.”

Seven years before Vern attended Iowa State University, King, the passionate, nonviolent face of civil rights, walked the halls of the Memorial Union and spoke to 1,500 ISU students on “the moral changes of a new age,” and “urged nonviolence as a route to revolution in race relations,” according to a story in the Ames Tribune in 1968.

“History is replete with the bleached bones of nations which have tried violence,” King said. “The Negro must not defeat or humiliate the white man, but must gain his confidence.

“Black supremacy would be as dangerous as white supremacy,” King continued. “I am not interested in rising from a position of disadvantage to a position of advantage.”

King’s death would bring to the forefront the rage and anger boiling inside many young American civil-rights activists.

“In the ISU Memorial Union another group, all young, black men, drank a toast of water to black unity, then threw their glasses to the floor,” wrote reporter Jerry Knight in his Ames Tribune 1968 article headlined “Black mourners shock diners with violence.”

“The explanation, handed out in advance by one of the Negroes, read: ‘We the Black Students of Iowa State University are here to awaken you to the conditions and consequences of the situation which has led to the violent death of our nonviolent leader, the Most Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,’” wrote Knight.

However, Vern, who spoke of the protest, sought to explain it.

“I’m not really sure I could characterize it,” Vern said. “Keep in mind that we were college students, and I figured I knew everything about everything. If the world would have just listened to me, I [thought I] could solve the world's problems.”

Some students, Vern said, wanted to be more active, work through the system or even throw the system completely over.

In a letter to the editor in the spring of 1968, student David Collins wrote, “I would like to point out that the incident among the Black students in the Memorial Union following the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King was an act of emotional outrage.”

In the letter, Collins outlined that his “white brothers” should stop acting like they understand how the black students felt, along with “fruitless promises” and a forthcoming “shattered society.”

“I cannot apologize for what happened in the Union, but try to put yourselves in our place,” Collins continued.

This is one of the first instances where Vern would learn how to make a change in society.

“Number one, we learned that we had to work among ourselves,” Vern said.

He also learned that to make change, he would have to work with the different personalities within the administration. Vern noted that ISU President William Parks was instrumental in supporting change because of his open-mindedness.


“I can’t really remember an instance where I felt I was being discriminated against, or not served, because of my color,” DeLores said. “Never.”

DeLores, until the age of 8, lived in what she called, “Little Italy” in Chicago. Being one of the two black families in the neighborhood, DeLores didn’t face discrimination from her Italian and Irish neighbors. Even in high school, after moving to a predominantly black neighborhood, she still felt her school was integrated. It housed many Polish-Americans as well.

DeLores said Ames “was challenging, but not very mean-spirited. People were very, very kind, especially some of the instructors and administrators.”

DeLores remembered when a professor, during an early winter storm, came by and brought boots to the African-American women who lived in dorms.

“I know you haven’t had a chance to go home, and I thought you might need these,” DeLores recalled her professor saying.

The community was receptive, DeLores said, crediting some uneasy beginnings to rural curiosity, as a lot of white students had come from rural communities where they had never even seen a black person.


Thirty years after the unrest of the 1960s, Iowa State would face another uneasy beginning.

On Oct. 6, 1995, Old Botany, now Carrie Chapman Catt Hall would become the center of campus, state and national attention as Catt’s xenophobic and racist comments outweighed her work as an early feminist and suffragette.

Serving twice as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Catt attended ISU in 1877 and would graduate by 1880 at the top of her class.

Although her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement was crucial in gaining women’s right to vote, some recalled her old remarks and believed that Catt wasn’t fighting for all women, only those who were white.

"White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women's suffrage,” Catt said. This statement was made during a losing effort to ratify the amendment in two Southern states.

Eleven days after Old Botany was renamed in honor of Catt, the first of many letters to the Iowa State Daily were written regarding the disappointment in the name change.

The letters to the editors would continue to gradually stir the pot until activists decided to act Feb. 26, 1996, four months after the name change to Catt Hall.

“No, racism, classism and xenophobia is not now, and never has been acceptable to disenfranchised and progressive peoples, whether they belong to the majority, minority or otherwise,” wrote Elisa Strachan, who was a sophomore in meteorology at the time.

ISU President Martin Jischke also began receiving letters.

Heather Wieses wrote in a 1996 Daily article that “Allan Nosworthy, a graduate student and leader in the campaign, said, "This is not a 'beat-up' President Jischke campaign.' This gives support for the changing of Catt Hall."

By May 3, Jischke had received 196 letters.

On March 7, 1996, nearly 100 students silently marched across campus to the steps of Catt Hall. They would name their movement “The September 29th Movement.” This aligned with the date that Uhuru, a student-run African-American campus newsletter, first called Catt a “racist, classist and xenophobic.”

The efforts made by students and faculty, however, were to no avail. The Government of the Student Body voted 18-9 on March 21, 1996, to reconsider the resolution renaming Catt Hall.

However, after reviewing the comments made by Catt that were submitted to the GSB, Sen. Matthew Goodman changed his mind and voted to resolve the debate and keep the current name Carrie Chapman Catt Hall.


Today, nearly 20 years after the controversy of Catt Hall, racism still holds a visible presence on the ISU campus.

On Dec. 12, 2014, Iowa State students marched across campus to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson.

With signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” Lakeba Scott, vice president of the ISU NAACP chapter, said in an interview with the Iowa State Daily, “It’s important to bring this issue to Ames because not everyone is recognizing that it’s going on. We’re trying to bring awareness and build support for this cause.”

During the annual Cy-Hawk football game on Sept. 12, 2015, students protested Donald Trump’s appearance at the game. Jovani Rubio, who was holding a sign reading “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” had his poster torn in half by Shelby Mueller, 20, from West Des Moines. Before ripping the sign, Mueller mentioned white supremacy. Some attendees at the tailgate cheered after the poster was ripped.

This act, which was caught on video, created an uproar that revealed some racial tensions that took place at Iowa State. After the attack on his poster, Rubio quietly taped it back together and continued with the protest.

In response to that incident, students and administration filled the Memorial Union’s Great Hall to discuss the racism that students of color have faced at Iowa State.

“What happened at Jack Trice two weeks ago, was more than unfortunate,” ISU President Steven Leath said during the forum. “What happened was deplorable and completely unacceptable. It came as a shock to me that that could happen in the Iowa State community.”

These racial tensions continued into November when ISU students gathered in Beardshear Hall to stand with the University of Missouri students, who had been facing discrimination on their campus.

Students at the protest voiced their opinions on the state of Iowa State University. Some argued that Iowa State was not similar to Mizzou, but the same.

Maurice Washington, a graduate student in agricultural and biosystems engineering, said at the event, “[The university] continues to live on an approximately 120-year-old legacy of their first African-American student. What else have they done? What else are they doing?”


“We’re always trying to increase the diversity in our student body,” said Martino Harmon, who was named vice president of Student Affairs in March 2016.

“And the most important reason [as to] why we’re doing this -- and this is really, really important -- because it benefits the university as a whole and it benefits the white students to have diversity, because it gives them a more realistic picture of how they will need to function in a global society and a global economy.”

Of Iowa State’s fall 2015 enrollment of 36,001 students, 23 percent are either U.S. minority or international. Half of those students are strictly U.S. minority. Because of this, Iowa State has met the Iowa Board of Regents 8.5 percent enrollment goal for the past decade, according to the Office of the Registrar.

In 2016, Iowa State set records in international, diversity and U.S. nonresident enrollment. International student enrollment increased by nearly 100 students, U.S. multicultural enrollment by roughly 600 students. However, Iowa State only increased by .9 percent when it comes to makeup of the student body in regard to U.S. multicultural and international student enrollment.

Harmon, who became associate vice president for Student Affairs in 2013 and is now the senior vice president for Student Affairs, compared Iowa State and its diversity to other schools.

Martino Harmon is the senior vice president for student affairs.

“I've been at other [four-year] institutions, and they've had a much smaller staff within [the] multicultural student affairs and offered less programming and less resources for a much greater number [of students] who would use those services,” Harmon said.

One of these programs is an Iowa State-based conference held annually, that Tom Hill, who retired in fall 2015 as senior vice president for Student Affairs, began in 1999.

Hill had been involved in the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, NCORE, and said he thought it would be a good idea to bring the national conference to Iowa State so students, faculty and staff who could not attend the conference nationally would still be able to learn about it locally.

This is how ISCORE was born.

At ISCORE, Hill said students, faculty and staff discuss a wide range of topics, including diversifying the student body, faculty and staff; making college a more welcoming environment; and dealing with white privilege and how to make people aware that they have a privilege.

Tom Hill is the former senior vice president for student affairs. He served in the position for nearly 20 years.

“It’s those kind of topics that they deal with,” Hill said. “Race is one of those issues that ebbs and flows, but quite frankly I don’t think the issues ever actually go away.”

At Hill’s retirement ceremony in December 2015, Japannah Kellogg, program coordinator for student services support and director of ISCORE, announced that ISCORE would be renamed the Tom L. Hill Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity.

Erikah Meierotto, senior in mechanical engineering, said ISCORE “shows how diversity is more than just skin color. It gives other people's views on diversity.”

Harmon said he believes Iowa State University is doing something that most other schools are not doing: listening.

“I do know that the most important thing we are doing is we’re listening, [and] we’re being responsive to the concerns of those students,” Harmon said.

January 2017

In spring 2016, a way Iowa State sought to address its diversity pains was through hiring Reginald Stewart, the first vice president for diversity and inclusion.

"I don't approach things as problems that need to be solved," Stewart told the Faculty Senate in April 2016. "I'm much more formulaic. I see opportunities to improve our university."

Iowa State has also hired two new project director’s in the diversity office, in which Nicci Port and Liz Mendez-Shannon will take charge in LGBTQA+ affairs and Hispanic/Latino affairs, respectively.

Port and Mendez-Shannon began their positions in early October 2016.

“It’s those kind of topics that they deal with,” Hill said. “Race is one of those issues that ebbs and flows, but quite frankly I don’t think the issues ever actually go away.”
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