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Concerns over gang members attending UNI concert sparks concerns of racial bias

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Concerns over gang members attending a concert at the University of Northern Iowa is sparking concerns of racial bias.

Popular rap artist Waka Flocka Flame will perform at UNI’s Maucker Union this upcoming Saturday at 8 p.m. The university has decided not to sell any tickets to the general public, citing safety concerns.

University President Mark Nook says, “We received input from area police agencies that we’d have gang members attending from various rival groups, and that was going to be a problem.” Nook saying the police saw social media posts that concerned them.

UNI started making changes, such as restricting attendance, initially saying it was because of high student interest. They also decided to move the concert to the Nielsen Fieldhouse.

Some students voiced their anger with these changes.

“To have this happen, especially during Black History Month, especially with a black artist, all signs pointed to what it was, which was racial bias,” says Jameka Mosley.

Monte’Sha Carter says, “It just made me feel like that they believe all the stereotypes that black people are violent, they’re aggressive, and it just made me feel like that’s how they view me.”

President Nook responding to this by saying, “There was a real feeling that moving this was because we didn’t want this particular artist to be in the heart of campus, but that was never a part of the decision, it was really about being able to keep the building safe.”

Nook says after talking to students, the concert will now be back in the Maucker Union; however, the general public still can’t buy tickets. Students can get tickets for a guest.

The university president says there will also be increased security during the performance.

Both President Nook and students say there needs to be change after this incident. Nook wants to have more student input and involvement in major decisions like this. He also wants more transparency with students..

The students say they’d also like to see more diversity in the university’s leadership positions.

UPDATE (February 15) — University of Northern Iowa President Nook released an apology to students Friday morning. See his apology below:

Dear Students,

I am writing to apologize to the students of UNI, but especially members of the Campus Activities Board (CAB) Live and minority students. University leadership was not as transparent and open with students as we should have been about the decision we made to limit ticket sales and change the venue for this weekend’s Waka Flocka Flame concert.

I understand that some students have blamed CAB Live members for the changes to the event, which is unfortunate, and regrettable. No CAB Live members, nor any other students, were involved in the decision to limit ticket sales or to move the event from its originally advertised location. We are working to make sure this does not occur in the future.

Over the past two weeks, university leadership has engaged in several difficult discussions about safety concerns stemming from the upcoming Waka Flocka Flame concert. I want you to know upfront that we absolutely do want artists of all genres and all diverse backgrounds to perform on our campus, and this fact was consistently part of the conversation. Diversity should be part of the student experience at UNI, and it is something we are committed to enhancing in the future.

However, there were a few important factors to carefully consider with this concert. The announcement of the event (which included ticket sales to the public) raised serious concerns among area police departments, which were brought to the attention of university leadership. Let me be as transparent as possible: they were concerned because there was solid evidence that area gang members from rival groups were going to attend the concert, and there was significant potential for violence to occur between the groups. Police were monitoring and evaluating those conversations.

Initially, university leadership was asked to keep this sensitive information confidential, which unfortunately resulted in an inability to be fully transparent about the reasons behind the changes we knew we needed to make to the event.

I cannot regret administration’s decision to act on the evidence brought forward by law enforcement. One of our most important responsibilities is the safety of our students. I would never be able to look a parent in the eyes and tell them that I knew their child might be in danger, but did not take action to prevent it. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to protect you and provide you with a superior education. That is our commitment.

What I do regret, however, is something that runs much deeper—the fact that these concert changes made some of our students concerned that we were making decisions based on fear and racial bias. We received feedback on multiple occasions from some students that they did not support these decisions and were confused and concerned that these changes were unnecessary. After many conversations and weighing these concerns, we opted to move the concert back to Maucker Union, with additional safety measures in place.

Some students told us they were worried there was a subconscious bias at play that we were not fully recognizing; others were concerned it was more intentional.

After wrestling with this difficult situation for the last two weeks, what I truly regret is that our actions were perceived as being motivated by these factors. Students expressed their concern not only about their university and the way it is governed, but also about the greater Cedar Valley community and its struggles with diversity. We know bias exists, and for some of our students, it plays a large role in their daily lives. There are much bigger conversations that must be had about diversity, acceptance, inclusion and respect.

We should have been more sensitive to this perception, and taken steps to mitigate those concerns. Our motivation was based solely on concern for the safety of our students, but we acknowledge how some could perceive that bias may have occurred. We deeply regret the impact that had on our students. The last thing we want is for our students to feel disrespected, marginalized or unheard.

Diversity and inclusion are critical parts of our university vision, and having a diverse community at UNI is not only important, it is essential. We are an institution of higher learning, and it is our responsibility, challenge and opportunity to embrace differences and grow from one another.

This past weekend, I had a two-hour listening session with members of CAB and allies. It was an important moment for us to learn from one another-something I will ensure we continue to do routinely into the future.
We’re proud of our students and the role they played in this larger conversation. We recognize this as an opportunity to do better and raise our collective understanding of these important issues.

It is our hope that we can move forward from this experience and transform into an even stronger institution. We’re on a journey of learning deeper, doing more and being better. We need the help of our students to navigate these challenging waters.

Mark A. Nook
President

 

Amanda Gilbert

Multimedia Journalist

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