Letter to the editor: KSUnite is an overreaction to racist incidents

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May 5: A “noose” is found on campus. Many at Kansas State immediately denounce it as an act of hatred and proof of systemic racism on campus.

It later becomes clear that the “noose” was a small bit of camouflage parachute cord which was tied around a tree with many other pieces of parachute cord, none of which looked like a traditional noose. The parachute cord was not placed in such a way as to draw immediate attention to it and may not have been intended to look like a noose or send any racist message. There was no suspect, no victim and no crime.

Sept. 13: White nationalist posters are found around campus. The posters are immediately taken down. Many at K-State immediately denounce them as an act of hatred and proof of systemic racism on campus.

As of yet, no evidence has appeared to prove that the individuals involved were connected to the university or even that multiple individuals were involved. While offensive, the posters fall under protected free speech. There was no suspect, no victim and no crime.

Oct. 8: A sukkah (a temporary outdoor Jewish structure) is found damaged and wrapped around a vehicle belonging to one of the individuals who helped organize the placement of the sukkah. Many at K-State immediately denounce it as an act of hatred and proof of systemic racism on campus.

It later becomes clear that the sukkah, which was built with thin material stretched over a light frame and placed in a wind tunnel between three buildings, had been picked up by severe winds during a storm and had damaged multiple vehicles. Multiple witnesses shared the same account. There was no suspect, no crime and the victims were only victims of poor structure design and bad weather.

Oct. 9: A homophobic slur is found chalked in Bosco Plaza. The slur is immediately washed away. Many at K-State immediately denounce it as an act of hatred.

While offensive, the chalk falls under protected free speech. There was no suspect, no victim and no crime.

Nov. 1: A car is found covered in racist graffiti. A police report is immediately filed, and the FBI is called in to investigate. Many at K-State immediately denounce it as an act of hatred and proof of systemic racism on campus.

It later becomes clear that the owner of the vehicle vandalized it himself in some sort of sick “prank.” The victim was a victim of his own horrible actions. The police decided not to charge him with a crime.

Nov. 14: In all five cases, K-State repeatedly denounces hatred and reaffirms its commitment to diversity and inclusion with various statements, rallies and events. Still, students demand more. They want K-State to “do something.”

So, in what seems like a public relations effort, K-State decides to suspend all classes on Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m. to host a rally. This decision potentially costs students hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of classes. Maybe the rally could have been held on a Saturday instead, but that was not the case.

This decision is prompted because of events like those five mentioned, all of which were condemned by the university and many individuals on campus, three of which were reported in an incorrect or misleading way and turned out to not be crimes, and the rest, while offensive, were acts of protected free speech.

Obviously, when confronted with acts of hatred and racism, our response should be to come together in unity. However, maybe we do not have an epidemic of systemic racism and bigotry at K-State. Maybe we have an epidemic of people overreacting to events before they have all the facts.

Maybe people are so desperate to justify their own narrative of systemic racism and bigotry that they see crimes where none exist and exaggerate situations to the point where negative publicity for the university is created.

As Detective Sgt. Andrew Moeller said, “I just feel like it’s hard for people to stay objective and wait until we have all the facts to make a judgement.”

Benjamin Ristow is a sophomore in history and membership coordinator for the College Republicans at Kansas State. The views and opinions expressed in this letter 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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  • Inoffensive Generic User Name

    OMG… Ben Ristow is like, literally Hitler!

  • Geoffrey Doyle

    When I was a graduate student at KSU the football team started to call its defense the “lynch mob” – and many, many K-Staters were puzzled when some faculty and others drew attention to this – stating it was a horribly insensitive practice. Nothing changed until the team was ranked in the top 10 and a game made prime time on national level, one of the announcers mentioned the nickname of the defense and the response from across the country was unanimous condemnation. Several of my peers, who hailed from western KS felt much like the author of this article, they never really suffered any real marginalization in their lives so the response pouring in from around the US seemed like an “overreaction” – until I pointed out that the overwhelming majority of the victims of lynching from 1870 to present were men and women of color or members of some other marginalized minority. Mr. Ristow should use some of the skills an actual history major would use (vs someone attempting “justify their own narrative”) and gain a little perspective – remember, all that was said at KSUnited was also “protected free speech”. Using his own logic he should not make any effort to criticize or dismiss this activity in the name of the First Amendment.

    • Benjamin

      I don’t have a problem with condemning racism and hatred. I have a problem with overreactions to events like the Sukkah where people condemned what they saw as a racist act committed by anti-Semitic students when it was really just a storm or the car where people condemned what they saw as a racist act performed by white supremacist students when it was really just a self inflicted “prank” which occurred off campus and was done by a man who apparently isn’t and never was a student here. This overraction and condemnation before all of the facts were in, created a massive amount of bad publicity for the university, and this bad publicity prompted KSUnited.

      I don’t have a problem with people using their protected free speech at KSUnited. I have a problem with a PR stunt which cost students hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of classes and was created in response to overreactions, misinformation, and bad publicity.

      As I said, “obviously, when confronted with acts of hatred and racism, our response should be to come together in unity,” but in this case things were poorly handled.

      • Get Off My Lawn

        Oh please, Mr. Ristow, it cost “students hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of classes”? Really? How many classes have you skipped? Do you really think students will fell any financial burden from this event?

        • Benjamin

          I don’t like to skip classes. I pay for them and want my money’s worth. I had two classes canceled on Tuesday. When classes are canceled, I don’t get a refund. In the case of one of my classes, material was simply thrown out, hurting the educational experience of the students. In the case of the other, class had to be rescheduled to the evening. Most students couldn’t make it and therefore were left to make up the material on their own (which may be unlikely). I had to call in to work in order to make it to the class. The average instate tuition cost of a single hour of class is about $20. I had 3 hours of class canceled. Some people didn’t have any classes canceled. If just half of campus missed an average of one hour of class, the cost of missed classes would be around $247,000. You may think that classes aren’t that valuable, but if that’s the case, maybe we should stop having them at all. Of course, it wasn’t just classes that were canceled. The dining centers were closed, costing the staff there time needed to prepare for the Thanksgiving Dinner on Tuesday and leaving some without access to meals during a period when they might have otherwise needed to eat. Offices across campus were closed, leaving students without academic and personal resources during a two hour time chunk when some may have needed assistance. I know students who were left without resources they needed during that time. And all of this was done because of a P.R. stunt in response to a culture of outrage and overreactions before the facts are in. This could have been done on a Saturday. It could have been an optional cancellation, as was the case with the eclipse. But it wasn’t. And it did cost students classes and resources on campus.

          • Inoffensive Generic User Name

            Why couldn’t they have just done it on the weekend?

          • Geoffrey Doyle

            I believe General Meyers was attempting to convey how seriously he took this issue/topic – postponing it to a more convenient time would not of done this.

          • Benjamin

            It wouldn’t have made as many headlines and therefore wouldn’t have been as effective as a P.R. stunt.

          • Geoffrey Doyle

            Completely false. If General Meyers was only interested in making it a “PR stunt” then he would have canceled the football game and held the rally in the stadium – that would have made headlines like nothing else. Talk about coming up with your own twisted take on something to fit your personal narrative!

          • Benjamin

            By that logic, if he really wanted to show how seriously he took it, he would have cancelled the game and held the rally in the stadium. We both know that he didn’t cancel the game because it would have directly cost the university money and bad publicity. The event was meant to secure good publicity and future money in the form of future enrollments. By cancelling classes, the university got a lot of attention without losing money because the classes had already been paid for.

          • KStateBornandBred

            Wooo I’d hate to see your reaction if they cancelled the football game, that would have cost WAY more money for the school than cancelling the $20/hr classes during week!!

          • ray28

            I don’t know if it was a PR stunt, but assuming that is, that would be WHY they wouldn’t cancel a game. It cost money. What did canceling classes cost the university? I would think it wouldn’t be that much to the university. They aren’t refunding any money to students, they aren’t paying anything extra that I can think of. It would be inexpensive to hold it during class times. hence, PR stunt might be accurate… an inexpensive PR stunt.
            So they can say they did something, but it didn’t really cost them anything, just the students who missed classes/services and possible work time… The assumption that it is NOT a PR stunt because they did not cancel the game is just begging the question. An unsupported assumption.
            Again, not sure if *I* think it is a PR stunt, but so far, nothing has ‘proven’ it isn’t.

          • Jason Nicholas

            You realize future employers will find this article? Right Ben? It might be a reasonable argument…it might not be but you are definitely putting your future employment at risk.

          • GetOffMyLawn

            “I don’t like to skip classes,” implying that you have. And that’s ok—sometimes real life gets in the way, like sickness, work, family it. Did you skip class for the eclipse? Have you ever skipped class just because? Or have they all been skipped for a legitimate reason? As a former undergraduate student, I would find that really hard to believe.

            You say that each class costs $20, so it cost you $60 Tuesday afternoon. What did you do during that time? We can assume you did not attend the event. So, did you work? Study? Sleep? Netflix? As for the rest of us, is $60 really that large in the scheme of things, especially considering the class has already been paid for by tuition and/or student loans? Sometimes more important things take precedent over formal class instruction.

            I concede to your point that some resources were not available to students. However, this event was not suddenly dropped on by the administration the day before the event. There was PLENTLY of time for students to coordinate meals (ex. Aggieville?), work schedules, or for the dining staff to coordinate Thanksgiving meal prep. For those students in dire emergencies…help is always given to those who ask.

            I also concede to your point that many of the incidents turned out not to be true, and worse, even perpetrated by some of the alleged victims (ex. the car incident) However, this does not take away from the fact that at the time of the events, many students and K-State community members, minority or not, were deeply troubled by what seemed to be a stark increase of racism in and around campus. If you attended the event, which we assume you didn’t, not a single person, or entity was blamed nor was anyone or anything singled out as the racist demon lurking on campus. This was about K-State members, faculty, staff, and students, coming together as a family, to increase awareness, to promote discussion, and to foster a safe, and welcoming campus and community for all walks of race, ethnicities, etc.

            Given your attitude of “whatever was written was protected by the First Amendment”—which is true, and you are entitled to that belief—we can assume you did not attend the event and that you do not understand the importance, value, and worth of the KSUnite initiative. Is it perfect? No. Does it solve everything? Of course not. But it is an important step for the K-State community.

            Again, you are entitled to your beliefs, but this does not mean the K-State community also adheres to them, or even agrees with them. Again, sometimes the cost of cancelling or missing class is worth so much than the $20/hour.

            Please stop trying to cover your disdain of this event with your argument that “it cost the students money.” I think we all understand what your real issue is here.

          • Benjamin

            “We can assume you did not attend the event.”
            “f you attended the event, which we assume you didn’t…”
            “…we can assume you did not attend the event”

            I did attend the event. I showed up 15 minutes early in a purple K-State shirt to support unity on campus. As I’ve said multiple times. I have no problem with the campus coming together in unity. I have no problem with condemning racism and hatred. I didn’t choose the title of this letter to the editor. I think it somewhat misrepresents my feelings. I don’t think that KSUnite was an overreaction to racist incidents. I think that KSUnite was a P.R. stunt prompted by an outrage culture on campus and overreactions to a number of events, three of which turned out to be nothingburgers. We can pretend that KSUnite was just a feel good event designed to bring together the campus with no ulterior motives, but many feel that this event was the university’s way of pushing back against a narrative of systematic racism and hatred on campus in order to save face and avoid suffering huge losses in enrollment. If that’s the case, fine, but we should be honest about it. And my problem wasn’t with the fact that KSUnite happened, but rather why it happened. The university wouldn’t have to push back against a narrative of systematic racism and hatred on campus if that narrative hadn’t been pushed by all those who overreacted to events before they had all of the facts. My problem is with the outrage culture on campus, not necessarily with KSUnite. The only issues I have with KSUnite is that 1. it wouldn’t have been necessary if we didn’t have such an outrage culture and 2. it could have been done on a Saturday. But I still showed up because I do support unity on campus and the condemnation of racism and hatred. I just question the motivations behind and effectiveness of KSUnite.

  • John

    I do find it ironic the author quotes the detective at the end about making judgement without facts. I say this because he mentions two cases which were not proven to be false, nor were arrests made. It is almost as if he is trying to dismiss them as being false incidents by lumping them with the false events. I think your argument would carry more weight if you did not put these together.
    He is correct, it is protected speech to put up posters with hateful slogans and write slurs on the walkways. However, inaction towards these types of events is worse publicity than this “overreaction” he writes about. If we truly are family, we need to work to foster the feeling of one.
    I also have a question. Do you think the event time was selected to make more of an impact than an event on a Saturday (which was a home football game)? It clearly grabbed your attention enough. I would say that was likely the purpose.

    • Benjamin

      I don’t think inaction is the solution. I think that racism and hatred should be condemned and that people should come together in unity. I also know that this had already been happening with statements, rallies, and events (as I note in the letter). I also think that KSUnite felt like a P.R. stunt prompted by negative publicity (created by an outrage culture) rather than something that would actually stop racism and hatred on campus. As my fellow student Evan Steckler put it, the KSUnite rally won’t help in the long term. //www.kstatecollegian.com/2017/11/14/letter-to-the-editor-the-ksunite-rally-wont-help-in-the-long-term/

  • Jeff Lawrence

    Mr. Ristow should excuse himself from our great University.

  • Benjamin

    Didn’t pick the title. In hindsight, would have preferred something like “Outrage Culture on Campus” rather than “KSUnite is an overreaction to racist incidents,” given that KSUnite was a response to outrage and overreaction, which I was criticizing more than KSUnite itself, and four of the five events I mention weren’t racist. One was homophobic and the other three were nothingburgers.

  • Jacob Morgan

    Hey Ben, nice article with well-constructed points. With the current environment at KSU the leftists there have all been dosed with bath salts and are looking to get their teeth around the throat of anyone who has a different opinion than them. Since your name is out there with a rational argument they can’t dismiss, you can expect typical college culture to push back against it.

    Don’t let them discourage you from expressing your viewpoint. All of their arguments involve labeling people into groups of their predetermined narratives, and if something doesn’t fit into their little bubble they pop both figuratively and literally.

    I’ve seen older alumni here personally insulting you and your chosen major. They have absolutely no business doing that and have stooped low targeting an undergraduate student; instead they should be working on their retirement plan or what Senior Care Home they are going to be residing at very soon.

    The best thing you can do in the face of all of this is to laugh at them, it’s the single thing they hate the most. Good luck to your future and education.

  • Carl

    Benjamin,
    I just want you to know that you’re an idiot. And people like you are the reason this university isn’t moving forward. People like you are the reason minorities on campus don’t feel safe. People like you, people who don’t care, people who are indifferent about the issues that do not affect them, are the problem. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

  • AJ Massey

    Ben,

    I completely respect what you just wrote. The people who are always looking for some MINOR thing to make another person seem racist will surely denounce you, but stick to your opinion.

    In this day and age, a sneeze in public would make someone offended. So keep at it. Keep investigating, keep reporting, and keep providing the public with the facts, even when all they want is the next person to condemn. Hopefully you will open some eyes and show them the real lesson here: Stop being overly outraged when you don’t have all of the information.

    People need to know that it is okay to be weary of an event, but get the facts before you start condemning others.

  • Ryan

    I’d imagine your belief that the reaction to these racist incidents is an “overreaction” is likely reflective of your own privilege. Perhaps you see KSUnite as overblown because the white supremacist posters weren’t asking for the extinction of your race? Maybe it’s easy to dismiss the slurs on the sidewalk because they’re not words that have been personally damaging to your own identity? Additionally, free speech is no reason to excuse or dismiss the presence of hate speech.

    Students of color have loudly voiced that they often do not feel comfortable on our campus. The Collegian’s reported on this. Maybe the most responsible role you could take in these instances is to listen to those impacted? The systematic racism and bigotry present in our country also exists in our community. It’s easy to ignore if we are not the one’s impacted or if we choose to look past it.