When the president of the regents calls university Democrats

University Democrats at Iowa temporary President Kiana Shevling-Major said she wasn’t upset when she learned that state Board of Regents President Mike Richards had called the group’s pro-Palestine message a “terrible statement” and called them “idiots” in an email. Shevling-Major said she admired the boldness of a statement.

She said, “He did say, ‘Yeah, that was inappropriate for me to say that.’ I also admire his ability to apologise because I appreciate that.” As one person put it, “People are going to have different opinions and say things that they may not have thought through fully at the time.”

Richards’ message came after a recent controversy involving the University Democrats at Iowa after they published a statement on Nov. 1 supporting Palestine during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“We fully and shamelessly support Palestine,” was the statement that The Daily Iowan read. “The violence that is still going on against millions of innocent people is terrible, and the fact that the US and other Western countries are supporting it is even worse.” For the human rights of Palestine and all people, we will protest, speak out, and fight.

Finally, the University Democrats at Iowa signed off with the words, “May every Palestinian live long and free, from the river to the sea.” Similar to “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” the statement said that the Jordan River, which forms the eastern border of Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea, which forms the western border of Israel, would be free.

Reporters from the Guardian say that people who support Israel see the phrase as calling for the killing of all Israelis, but people who support Palestine say it means a free Palestinian state. There are also links between it and Hamas, the militant group that struck southern Israel on October 7.

When the President of The Regents Calls University Democrats at Iowa "idiots" for A Statement,

The Cedar Rapids Gazette got a hold of Richards’ email along with those of other regents and regent staff. In them, they talked about the situation in Gaza and how it affected public colleges in Iowa.

The emails, which the Gazette said were from October 27, asked Mark Braun, Executive Director of the Board of Regents, for reports on “issues on the campuses regarding the events in Israel.”

“Are there any protests?” Braun and the other nine regents got an email from Cramer. “Are you concerned that Jewish or Palestinian students will hurt you?” Braun replied to Cramer that there had been no protests on Iowa public university campuses but that they were still monitoring social media posts and that “there is currently no threat of violence.”

After Braun’s mistake, Regent David Barker wrote in the email chain that there had been a protest by many students on the UI Pentacrest. Further down the email chain, on November 1, Braun sent the regents the message from the University Democrats at Iowa. To the statement, Richards sent the word “terrible statement.” “Stupid people.”

Josh Lehman, senior communications director for the regents, was asked for comment by the DI. In an email, he said that the regents had already said what they had to say to the Gazette and had nothing else to say. “I still strongly disagree with what they said, and I will keep that up,” Richards said. “On the other hand, I shouldn’t have called the students names.”

Richards made a speech in support of Israel on November 1. Richards said, “The Board of Regents fully supports the people and state of Israel and will always stand with them.” “All acts of terrorism are wrong.”

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Ui Democrats Receive Backlash Following Social Media Post

After the University Democrats at Iowa’s statement was made public, the Iowa Democratic Party asked three student leaders on the group’s executive board who signed the statement to step down. Then, on November 11, University Democrats at Iowa President Estella Ruhrer-Johnson quit. She didn’t sign the note.

In a statement obtained by DI, Ruhrer-Johnson said, “Resignation was not how I saw my presidency ending. However, due to the diminished authority of the president’s role within the executive board, I cannot fairly lead.”

Shevling-Major told the DI in the past that she used the term “from the river to the sea” to show her support for Palestinians “who are currently being held hostage in their land, from the river of Jordan to the sea of the Mediterranean.” She said the comment wasn’t meant to imply that the Israeli people were being killed but rather to support the freedom of the Palestinians.

Shevling-Major says that people on social media said negative things about the comment, and the Johnson County Democrats and several Iowa State Representatives asked her to take it back. After the fact, the University Democrats at Iowa changed their message by adding, “May every Palestinian live long and free.” Also, the corrected post was taken down less than an hour after it was made.

Shevling-Major said the statement was taken down from the University Democrats’ social media pages an hour after it was posted because several Iowa State Representatives asked them to.

“I refuse to say sorry for supporting Palestine,” Shevling-Major told the DI in a letter. “I’m not going to stop speaking out against oppression when I see it.” I won’t be quieted down, and I will keep using my voice to fight for the human rights of people who are being denied them, no matter where they are.

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Meeting with the Iowa Democratic Party

Members of the student group have met with party chair Rita Hart since the Iowa Democrats made their statement. Shevling-Major said the meeting didn’t give her the closure she hoped for.

She said, “Because the IDP wants to work with university Democrats across the state, I think it’s important that we don’t just ignore this and take care of it.” The people have the power to vote, so I believe it’s important for you to be clear about what you believe in.  Natalie Miller helped with this story.

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