When then 17-year-old Dora Martin Berry was elected by her peers in 1955 as Miss State University of Iowa, making her the first Black student to hold the honor, university officials refused to acknowledge her title, reports Press Citizen.
In fact, local, national and global newspapers featured her story, while the predominantly White school, now named the University of Iowa, ignored the historic importance of her achievement.
“Unfortunately, the university administration never officially recognized or even acknowledged her victory or her status,” said University of Iowa president, Bruce Harreld. “The best they could do at that time was to offer an official ‘no comment,” since they said the election was a student matter, not part officially of the university.”
Not only did these officials refuse to acknowledge Berry’s title, they denied her representation as Miss SUI at official university events, even canceling functions at which Miss SUI would traditionally appear.
Sixty year later, the university hoped to correct this iniquity by apologizing and honoring Berry.
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“Dora Martin Berry of the University of Iowa, I would first like to apologize for 60 years plus of official neglect of your status,” said UI President Harreld Friday in an event honoring Berry and other Black alumni. “We as an institution are very proud of you accomplishments, and we’re grateful that you are such an important member of our Hawkeye family.”
Berry, now 78, thanked Harreld for his apology, admitting it was still meaningful to hear, even six decades later.