The University of Iowa has announced plans to create the Midwest Institute of African American History and Culture. The new center will be a space where collaborators, faculty members, and researchers from across the Midwest can gather to share ideas and promote African American culture. The institute will focus on research opportunities, educational possibilities, seminars, and workshops so that visitors and educators can better understand Black history.
Venise Berry, chair of the African American studies program at the University of Iowa, stated that “when we think about African American culture, we do not think about the Midwest. Iowa has a huge influx and migration of minorities from all over. They come into the rural and city environments, and it calls for a large understanding of the African American community. We need to better understand how systematic racism impacts minority cultures. We can do that through research. Once you understand it, you can change it.”
The department of African American studies at the University of Iowa was defunded in 2005 for financial reasons. Simon Balto, a professor of history in the African American studies program said that the university tried to defund the program altogether, but that after a number of Black students protested, a compromise was reached, cutting the master’s program and retaining the undergraduate program. “I believe that there is a tendency for the administration and other parties to think of African American studies as something that should exist on paper to check a box, showing they are committed to diversity,” Dr. Balto said. “But they have not understood why this program is part of the lifeblood of the university.”
African Americans make up just 3 percent of the 24,000-member undergraduate student body at the University of Iowa.