Letter to President Myers on K-State diversity

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Editor’s note: This letter was written by the students of the Diversity 2025 working group and sent to President Richard B. Myers and the university cabinet.

President Richard B. Myers and members of the president’s Cabinet,

We are writing to share with you a number of priorities, which we as student leaders jointly share regarding Kansas State University’s efforts to be an inclusive institution which embraces its diversity and is intent on eliminating systemic barriers to success amongst students.

We have come together over the last several months to engage in a continuing conversation, which we have referred to as “Diversity 2025,” about how the university we attend can improve in these areas. We have found a common vision in the university’s need to foster accessibility, encourage an equitable academic learning environment, enhance inclusive retention strategies, create an inclusive community climate and support a respectful and representative workforce.

The mission of “Diversity 2025” has been to foster a proactive, collaborative commitment by the Kansas State University student body to guide the campus community to be a leader in diversity, inclusion, multicultural engagement and social justice. We stand for this because there is tremendous value in empathizing with other cultures, supporting our peers and further ensuring the university’s objective of preparing students for a diverse global community.

The goals of this student-driven initiative are to engage, educate, recruit and advocate to lessen the impact of systematic bias to create a more equitable K-State. We envision a culture where the concept of family is universally felt and intentionally embraced. We all share mutual ownership of our institution’s dedication to inclusion and should thus invest in this effort.

In the paragraphs and sections below, we list several shared priorities for university progress in the area of diversity and inclusion. We recognize that in order for such significant goals to be fulfilled, there needs to be administrative support behind these objectives and intensive advocacy for diversity and inclusion at the highest levels of Kansas State University.

Therefore, we believe it is important that the search for a permanent Chief Diversity Officer begin, in order to demonstrate that this topic is a permanent priority. Additionally, we support a structural change to the university president’s Cabinet to make the Chief Diversity Officer a cabinet-level, vice president position.

Fostering Accessibility

Within the concept of fostering accessibility, we believe that K-State ought to be dedicated to ​needs-based scholarship initiatives​, tuition affordability​ and ​strategic recruitment of a diverse student body​. K-State should create a clear strategy for meeting the needs of a diverse prospective and current student population.

There should be a heightened focus on needs-based scholarships, as the regular rise in tuition has forced many students away from the opportunity of higher education. Multicultural students have been disproportionately affected by these increases and thus would benefit from greater efforts in this area.

We recognize that progress has been made in scholarship distribution, but we believe that more can be done. There ought to be a clear strategy for a needs-based scholarship plan. Data ought to be collected related to how scholarships are currently distributed and what demographics of students receive those scholarships.

There should also be transparent distribution of that data to interested stakeholders and a timeline for creating new scholarship opportunities and fundraisers for more scholarships. It should continue to be a goal of K-State to provide an affordable education that attracts and retains a diverse student body.

The university should also take further steps to explore tuition models like a guaranteed tuition model option that could allow for students to experience stable and predictable tuition. This exploration should accompany an increase in intentionality and intensity in K-State’s recruitment efforts towards targeted demographic regions of opportunity.

We recognize the strength and benefits of many existing, quality recruitment programs at the university, but we also believe there should be greater partnership between the Office of Diversity, the Office of Admissions and New Student Services in order to enhance these efforts.

Encouraging an Equitable Academic Learning Environment

To encourage an equitable academic learning environment, we believe it is imperative to both ​require cultural competency education​ and ​offer opportunities for feedback, specifically on the level of inclusivity and respect present in the classroom.

The “Human Diversity in the U.S.” section of the K-State 8 general education does not currently meet the cultural competency education needs of the K-State student body. K-State should narrow the course options in that section in order to ensure that students fulfilling that requirement experience an adequate education on diverse material.

K-State could pursue narrowing the “Human Diversity in the U.S.” options through either requiring each college to create a list of options that would fulfill that requirement in its specific college, or it could change the requirement at a university-wide level.

The proposed “U.S. Multicultural Overlay” in the College of Arts and Sciences is a quality example of a college-specific route, where a rubric is used to determine whether a course adequately addresses structural inequities.

A process to narrow this K-State 8 section should include student voices in the process, and the student body should be sufficiently updated on progress. Additionally, student evaluations of their course faculty should include expanded opportunities specifically for students to address whether their instructors created a respectful, inclusive environment.

Enhancing Inclusive Retention Strategies

In terms of enhancing inclusive retention strategies, we believe that there should be a ​strategic plan for retention of underrepresented students​.

K-State should invest time into creating a strategic plan that addresses the question of how to parallel the graduation rates of white students and minority students. The gap that exists between the graduation rates of the demographics is unacceptable and is not serving the student body.

This strategic plan should consider a number of items, including how to utilize all of the existing resources available for student success, the successful communication of those resources with students, the development of new resources to address specific areas of weakness, a focus on the upperclassmen student experience in terms of student life resources and approaches to advising that are both data-driven and qualitative.

Creating an Inclusive Community Climate

In order to create an inclusive community climate, we support ​progress on a multicultural student center​, as well as the university taking ​a firm stance against discrimination​.

We support K-State’s recent efforts to engage in a transparent, collaborative process to move forward with plans for a multicultural student center at the university. We sincerely hope that the vision being crafted will proceed to be heavily driven by student input.

The work that has been conducted in the past should not be disregarded and should be utilized to craft any future concepts. We look forward to a fundraising plan and timeline being developed and are interested in progress being regularly communicated with the student body.

Our strong feelings about this project stem from our belief that a multicultural student center would serve as an important place on campus for K-State to engage in work that promotes inclusive education, provides resources to underrepresented students and pulls in students from all demographics to learn in an intentionally multicultural environment.

This center would benefit recruitment, retention and academic success. The current plan to move forward with a center planning group is promising, and we hope that it will allow students an opportunity to have their voice heard and their interests represented.

In regards to opposing discrimination, it should be understood that K-State does not stand for discrimination and that acts of discrimination will have consequences at this university. The Campus Climate Response Team should be a well known resource to students who need an outlet to report their experiences with discrimination at K-State.

The team should be sufficiently promoted to students and have clear systems in place for both addressing incidents as they occur and connecting affected students with resources after an incident occurs. We believe a proactive response begins with the student body knowing what to look for prior to any possible discrimination acts.

In order to support the safety and equitable treatment of transgender and gender non-conforming students, we believe that the university must write specific policy re-affirming students’ rights to access services, housing and all other gendered accommodations consistent with their self-defined gender identity.

The university must take quantitative steps to ensure that all students have access to gendered bathrooms, locker rooms and housing consistent with their gender identity and ensure that all single-user restrooms and locker rooms on campus are relabeled as non-gendered facilities to ensure that students who do not feel comfortable using gendered facilities have access to those necessary public accommodations.

Additionally, the university should remove legal names upon request from the campus directory when there is a preferred name on file to reduce the risk of transgender and gender non-conforming students being outed by access to their legal names, and then potentially targeted for exclusion and violence.

Supporting a Respectful and Representative Workforce

Finally, we recognize the importance of supporting a respectful and representative workforce and hope that progress can be made in this category through ​cultural competency education for faculty and staff​, as well as the ​implementation of diverse hiring and retention initiatives​.

Faculty and staff should be required to engage in diversity and inclusion training, so that they can more effectively and respectfully communicate with and instruct the student body at K-State. Students need to know that their figures of authority at the university are committed to creating and maintaining a welcoming atmosphere that encourages student success for all.

There should be increased focus on hiring and retaining a diverse faculty and staff. Initiatives should be implemented at K-State to expand the candidate pool for hiring, and those engaged in the hiring process should be required to go through selection bias training.

Retention of a diverse workforce should also be supported, and steps should be taken in Human Capital Services to specifically address the need for improvement in that area.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we hope this letter speaks to the deep interest that students have in seeing progress in the described areas. K-State has long discussed how to be a more inclusive institution, but change has often been slow to manifest.

If we are truly a family at K-State, then we should diligently work to support one another and make progress towards proper provision of opportunities for success for all. We believe that K-State should take these steps to eliminate systemic discrimination and institutional social and systemic issues, and we believe that the student body should be engaged in that progress.

Sincerely,

Jessica Van Ranken, student body president

Bryan Davis, Black Student Union president

Holly Nelson, Sexuality and Gender Alliance president

Israel Mendoza, Hispanic American Leadership Organization president

Riley Katz, Gender Collective president

Chelsea Turner, Feminists Igniting Resistance and Empowerment co-president

Jackie Hunyh, Asian American Student Union president

Trenton Kennedy, student body vice president

Adam Carr, Sexuality and Gender Alliance vice president

Vanessa Sastoque, Hispanic American Leadership Organization vice president

Jack Ayres, Student Governing Association speaker of the senate

Darrekk Reese, Black Student Union Big 12 delegate

Tendai Munyani, Student Governing Association international affairs director

Samantha Sharpe, Gender Collective treasurer

Stephen Kucera, Student Governing Association speaker pro tempore

Shakyra Everett, Student Governing Association multicultural affairs director

Arturo Sanchez, Hispanic American Leadership Organization

Zanaiya Peebles, Black Student Union

Jordan DeLoach, Student Governing Association chief of staff

Mary Abounabhan, junior in management

Lolwa Al-Foudari, Kuwaiti Student Organization president

Fiorella Flecha, freshman in business administration

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