*This fall, the University of Iowa is offering black students a weekly support group on ways to deal with being black on campus.
“The Black at Iowa Support Group is geared towards providing students who identify as African/African-American with an opportunity to join together to celebrate their successes as well as share their struggles at the university,” the university’s website states. “Students will gain an opportunity to deepen their resilient qualities by sharing their experiences in an open, supportive environment.”
Among the issues to be discussed at the support group is “Coping with microaggressions experienced on campus.”
Other topics on the list: “Exploring racial identity and sense of belonging,” “Managing relationships with others,” “Defining balance between work, personal, and school life” and “Maintaining motivation in academic pursuits.”
The support group is offered by the university counseling services and will take place every Wednesday at the Women’s Resource Action Center.
The history behind this idea goes back to 2015, when author Ta-Nehisi Coates visited the campus to help start a conversation on race.
Students in the fall semester, at both the local and national level, and the activism of students on campus highlighted the experience of Black students at the University of Iowa and provided a renewed opportunity for our community to discuss how we can better support Black students. A call went out to stakeholders across campus to engage in dialogue around this issue.
After intense listening and dialogue, students, faculty members, and staff members from the Division of Student Life and Chief Diversity Office collaborated to create, Being Black at Iowa, a program designed to facilitate intentional dialogue on the topic of race in our community.
On a cold and snowy February evening, campus and community members packed the Englert Theatre to hear “A Deeper Black: Race in America,” a lecture by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent with The Atlantic and author of The Beautiful Struggle and a newly released book, Between the World and Me. Coates’ lecture and the community conversation that followed, was the feature event of Being Black at Iowa.
“This came at the right time for students. Bringing someone as known as Coates to campus as well as providing the opportunity for students to meet with him, demonstrated to students that the university was listening,” said Kyra Seay, former student and member of the planning committee.
“The Coates visit and lecture allowed students on campus to talk about their experiences. Black students from freshman to seniors, as well as Black student leaders spoke about their struggles and gaps in their experience,” said Tabitha Wiggins, multicultural initiatives coordinator and member of the planning committee. “These students felt support they hadn’t before, and that their experience meant something.”
Students, faculty, staff, and community members were all present at the lecture, and the participation of so many different members of our community started the conversation on multiple levels and ensured it ‘didn’t stand still’.
“Coates was able to articulate in a powerful way, the struggles of the Black community, and help our whole community better understand,” said Kyra.
While the conversation wasn’t new, Coates’ visit, and the collaborative process of bringing him to campus, provided the catalyst for forward motion, and readied the community for continued action.
“Ta-Nehisi Coates’ visit set a tone on campus,” said Dr. Michael Hill, associate professor in the English department and planning committee member. “It brought the issues and struggles of the Black community, especially students, to attention and has resulted in a definite change in vigor around this issue.”