OPINION: What can K-State actually do to fight bigotry?

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April Mason, Provost and senior vice president of Kansas State University, speaks during the Black Student Union's Emergency meeting to discuss how we can combat incidents of racism on campus. At the Bluemont Room of the Union in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 1, 2017. (Photo by Alex Shaw | Collegian Media Group)

Are we done yet? Hardly a week has gone by in the past few months without some kind of bigoted vandalism or racist episode occurring in Manhattan. I think I speak for every journalist in the area when I say that I’m so damn tired of reporting on these same incidents over and over again.

As much as I love to complain — it’s why I’m the opinion editor — the good citizens of Manhattan still have to respond somehow to each of these incidents, one after another. I’m loving the solidarity events and the public declarations of unity by the good-natured folks among us, but one thing I see all too often is the idea that the Kansas State administration needs to take “further action.”

I know why people want K-State to help — they are a school, and thus they should be responsible for the lives of their students. But something is always nagging at me when I see this kind of outcry.

What can K-State actually do about bigotry? What actions can the administration take to punish or discourage the people responsible for vandalizing and terrorizing minority citizens?

I wish K-State could do something, and I think the administration wishes it could help, too. But in many of the incidents of social injustice that have received a public outcry this year, there is very little justice the university can provide.

The main issue is with anonymity of the perpetrators. The major incidents that have occurred this year were mostly committed by unknown persons in the dead of night only to be discovered the next morning.

Additionally, K-State has no jurisdiction off-campus due to its status as a public university. Unless a bigoted action is committed on-campus or by an identified student, there isn’t much K-State can do beyond the usual strongly-worded press releases.

I’m as sick of K-State’s copy-and-pasted press releases as anyone, but when people ask for “further action,” what does that entail? The university can’t possibly expel everyone who causes a social outrage, especially when most of these outrages are off-campus or caused by anonymous nobodies who may not even be students.

I suppose K-State could make an example out of the students who are publicly outed for insensitive remarks to dissuade the more insidious students from committing worse crimes, but this could have several negative outcomes.

The biggest issue is that this would be more ammo for bigots in Manhattan. If every student who makes a tasteless joke on social media is expelled after being tried in the court of public opinion, they could inadvertently become martyrs for disturbed individuals who are looking for a reason to hate the administration and its proclamations of diversity.

Bigots tend to justify their beliefs by pointing fingers at evidence of “injustice,” usually by arguing that the act of expelling students who say bad things and don’t directly harm any persons or property is a violation of free speech. There’s no way to win, and the administration’s hands are tied.

On top of that, expelling insensitive students who publicly cause a ruckus might be disproportionately reprimanding them for their crimes. While things like vandalism are obviously criminal, an insensitive joke, statement or idea is often caused more by ignorance than actual malice.

To put it another way, I think there’s an important difference between “hate speech” and what one might call “ignorant speech.” For many individuals, insensitivity is an ill that can be cured. As an educational institution, the healthier but less authoritative option may be for K-State to reeducate insensitive students with racial and gender sensitivity training.

Any student expelled for a callous remark will seethe in hatred for years, cursing the institution that unjustly ruined them while anonymous extremists continue to thrive in the shadows. Education is the best tool to help people realize the errors of their ways and fight bigotry at its source.

With mass expulsions off the table, maybe the solution is to catch more people in the act of social injustice. Unfortunately, that’s not feasible right now, and I’m not sure if I even want it to be feasible in the future.

Yes, there are security cameras on the K-State campus, but according to the university’s website, “Cameras are placed in strategic locations on campus, including some buildings and parking lots.” The wording of this statement and the complete lack of further information on campus security cameras leads me to believe that there aren’t very many of them.

So the obvious solution is to install more cameras, right? While I certainly think the campus does need more security cameras — I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one — there comes a point where it’s too much.

One of the biggest debates of the Information Age is whether we as a society want to prioritize privacy and liberty or security and safety. While that in itself is a topic for another opinion article, it’s important to think about what security measures would be required to catch anonymous bigots in the act of vandalism on this campus.

We would need dozens (if not hundreds) of cameras to cover every inch of campus. These cameras would all need to be monitored and maintained. If a perpetrator slips past the cameras, mandatory questioning and screening of dozens (if not hundreds) of individuals would be needed before K-State could officially “catch the bad guy.”

This hypothetical future K-State wouldn’t make me feel safe, it would make me feel scrutinized. Even as someone with nothing to hide, I would hate feeling like I was the center of a security guard’s attention every time I walked home late at night. Oh, and do I even need to mention the effect this heightened security would have on the university’s already dwindling budget?

I want K-State to bring in staff and students that accurately represent the diversity of the state, and I want K-State to include race and gender as topics in mandatory education courses for all students. But at the end of the day, the university can’t do everything. At some point, it’s someone else’s problem.

Kyle Hampel is the reviews and opinion editor for the Collegian and a junior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to [email protected]

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Kyle Hampel
Those words you just read were written by me, Kyle Hampel. I'm an English major who has very strong feelings about barbecue pizza and the Oxford comma. I like to write articles about my strong opinions, too! I also play lots of musical instruments and video games, but never at the same time. Beloit, Kansas, is proud to call me their own, along with several other towns I've lived in that aren't as special to me.
  • Scott Heise

    IN MY VIEW: I don’t get the feeling that Mr. Hampel closed the loop in this article.

    I agree that no matter the outcry, there is limited action available to the administration beyond providing increased monitoring and follow-up of whatever they detect during that monitoring. And, I agree it is someone else’s problem. I will close the loop for him – It is OUR problem.
    We students are responsible to contribute to our community in a positive way. It is our job to sensor the behavior of our community members and actively work within our circle of friends to influence positive actions and denounce divisive behavior.

    Faculty and staff advisers cannot continue to advise students to take measures that fan the flames of social tension – racial, sexual, gender, age, etc. by expressing outrage at every event that might be exclusionary, or marginalizing, or insensitive. They cannot fall into the “rush to judgement” trap that they are supposed to counsel against. It is the role of these advisers to provide meaningful guidance that helps to resolve our conflicts while working to maintain our community (K-State family). I get the impression that many advisers value their enclave (club, group, or academic discipline subscribers) over the community and provide guidance that serves the enclave at the expense of the community. I don’t feel that “community” is what motivates many faculty advisers when they advise students to act in a particular way or to frame their public narrative in ways that contribute to community healing instead of enclave “justice.” Students rely on these advisers to provide the wisdom and to exercise the judgement that will inform the rest of our lives – we cannot be advised to respond in alarmist or hyperbolic ways to every incident that occurs. Somewhere in the discussion there has to be space for reasoned and measured responses that serve the enclave AND the community. And, just because an adviser says it, doesn’t make it true or make it the best choice. We all have limits to our knowledge and we all make mistakes.

    The Collegian needs to be more introspective when they rush to publish sensationalized or alarmist headlines with poorly supported articles that paint a Kansas State University as anything other than a segment of society that is facing the same challenges the rest of the country faces. Just because we have a limestone wall that separates us from the rest of the world, doesn’t mean we won’t experience the same community challenges the rest of Manhattan, Kansas, and America face.

    When events like Cats for Inclusion and unification/solidarity rallies occur, and the speakers discuss the racial tension on campus, they cannot hold these isolated events up as representative of our community as a whole. The anger and outrage directed at the person(s) performing these acts is warranted, but there has not been (that I have seen) any coordinated effort that might represent a collective of likeminded supremacists or other hate groups. Judging the community by the actions of a few is in direct opposition with EVERY conflict resolving strategy taught on campus – especially those at the Staley School of Leadership and the Communication Studies. Have incidents occurred on campus that are culturally or racially insensitive – yes they have. Are the events that have occurred indicative of a “community” in distress – only if we play into the hands of whoever is doing these acts. These divisive actions, when done intentionally, are like any other form of terrorism – they seek to modify behavior through fear. And, just like any other form of terrorism – we fight it with a refusal to accept that message as representative of our community and our community members. We work to strengthen our community “family” so that these actions don’t plant the seeds of distrust and fear.

    My point is that these events divide the community into those who have been targeted and everyone else – it is built into the language we are using to characterize the people who are targeted – as if they are the only ones affected by these acts. The reality is that if we have 24,000 community members (students, faculty, and staff), 23,995 community members are standing with the victims – until the outrage targets them as part of the offender population by saying we don’t understand what is like to be A, B, C, or D. Our work is to identify the five members who resist the community and understand why they are taking the actions they are taking. What can be done to bring them into the community – to address disagreement or conflict at the source and not imagine a world that doesn’t exist.

    Finally – we need to stop thinking about these assaults on our community as black, minority, or marginalized population issues. Behavior that minimizes someone based on their race or other identity affects us all. Divisive, antagonistically discriminatory behavior is like the weak spot in an overfilled balloon (…think KSU community or “Family”). Every time one of these events occurs, the weak spot gets closer to giving way. None of us can predict when the weak spot will give out and the entire community (balloon) collapses on itself, but we can work to keep the weak spot from growing.

    I suggest that the Collegian join forces with other campus based groups and individuals to host a forum that is not organized around events that have happened, but on steps we can take to move forward. Or, better still, how we build and maintain a community that really represents the idea of “family.” A community in which its members FEEL THAT THEY ARE PART OF THE COMMUNITY and are invested in its preservation. We have an organization on campus, the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy that exists to facilitate these types of discussions. There are communication, leadership, social science, ethnic studies, justice, and so many more scholars who could put their collective minds to work at helping generate questions and discussion points that make progress on our community inclusion issues instead of portraying our campus as a hate filled, insensitive, bigoted community. It is not like we don’t have the tools to succeed – I suggest we aren’t displaying the WILL to succeed in building our community. We are grownups in a grown-up world – lets work together to build our community the way we imagine it should be.

    It is obvious that may of our community members are dissatisfied with behavior within the community. Many members are attributing community failure to the administration while others are concerned by the acts themselves. I am willing to engage with anyone who has ideas or a willingness to work toward building our community into what we want it to be. And, I am equally willing to engage with those who don’t believe we can or should build such a community.

    It is all about WE, not me.