First state of the BSU address calls attention to university racial climate

State of The Black Student Union Address attendees mingle after the presentation in the Town Hall on Dec. 1, 2015. (Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

College students are some of the most powerful human beings on the planet. That was the message expressed by Black Student Union President Muenfa Lewis, junior in finance, at the first State of the BSU address in the Town Hall of the Leadership Studies Building Tuesday night.

Student leaders from the Student Governing Association, including Student Body President Andy Hurtig and Vice President Joe Tinker, were in attendance. They were joined by several K-State administrators, including April Mason, provost and senior vice president; Pat Bosco, vice president of student life and dean of students; and Myra Gordon, associate provost for diversity.

On Mizzou, KU protests

Following the protests that took place last month at both the University of Missouri and University of Kansas, Lewis said there is racism and inherent disadvantages built into the system that affect all minority students at K-State.

“If I want to, I could probably have some students come up here and just talk about the racism they’ve experienced on this campus,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he hopes the climate here will not get to the point where students feel the need to protest the administration, but he said people need to remain proactive about creating an atmosphere of family.

“You can always point the finger, like, ‘I don’t want to be like Mizzou. At least we’re not that bad,'” Lewis said. “We still have a lot of work to do at our campus because we’re really not that far off from Mizzou. We shouldn’t feel like what happened at Mizzou couldn’t happen here at K-State.”

Meeting with other student groups

BSU has met with SGA and other student groups to create a better environment at K-State, according to Lewis.

“The overall goal with our meetings and our constant communication back-and-forth is to create a possible universitywide social justice campaign,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he wants to create a campaign similar to K-State Proud, with the backing of the university’s administration.

“We want it to be like that,” Lewis said. “Where K-State is clearly for equality, eliminating racial inequity, being the major faces and pushing forward knowledge of these issues as well.”

Lewis said BSU is stronger than it has ever been and will continue to support black students on campus.

“As an organization, we live by our mission,” Lewis said. “When we talk about empowering students, we want them to accomplish amazing and incredible things on this campus. We want our students to really be the game changers, the ones that make a huge difference wherever they are.”

The university can do more to create an environment that does not tolerate racism, Lewis said.

“I think it’s important to establish that zero tolerance,” Lewis said. “And we don’t have that clarity within our university policies. What happens if I’m called the n-word on campus? Who do I go to beside my usual outlets on campus? Do I have other top administration who would be willing to move in and take the necessary actions and steps needed to ensure my safety and emotional stability as a student?”

Looking to the future

Although the outreach from student government and student groups has been overwhelming, Lewis said there are still a number of challenges facing black students.

“We must recognize the problems that face African-American students on this campus,” Lewis said. “We’re last in retention rates among racial groups. We’re actually last in cumulative GPAs for African-Americans. And if we do make it to graduation, we actually take the longest to graduate as well here at K-State.”

Lewis said constructing a multicultural center is one of the ways to improve the campus and make K-State more attractive to minority students.

“We need the funding of a centrally located building that is accessible for multicultural students,” Lewis said. “Now the way begins for the funding to begin for a multicultural center, but we must push this funding and make it a top priority.”

Lewis said although K-State President Kirk Schulz stated he is in favor of building a center, funding it presents some difficulty amid tuition caps and decreased state funding for education.

“I think one of the major things that’s been discussed is reaching out to multicultural alumni and multicultural donors,” Lewis said. “It’s really hard to grant funding for something like that when you want to preserve its cultural relevance as well. But I do think it can be funded.”

Hurtig said the funding difficulties could be somewhat alleviated by drawing attention to it.

“At K-State, we do a great job of telling our story,” Hurtig said. “If we need a business building, we tell our business story. If we need an engineering building, we tell our engineering story. If we need a new football stadium, we tell our football story. What we need to do better is tell our multicultural story and get that out to our alumni and donor friends.”

Lewis said he was proud of the relationship the Staley School of Leadership has with the BSU to help examine racial issues that affect minority students at K-State. Research at the school showed that a class on diversity might appeal to students, according to Lewis.

“A lot of students are interested in the prospect of a required class that has a curriculum built upon diversity and social justice,” Lewis said. “A lot of students want the opportunity to learn more about their fellow students … they want to have the opportunity to not make the mistake if they say something offensive to somebody else. They want to be in a classroom setting where those real conversations can happen.”

Lewis took questions from the audience after the address. Sierra Lekie, senior in political science, asked what students can do to make a better atmosphere for everyone.

“Three things: educate, interact and speak out,” Lewis said. “You must educate yourself on the issues with racism. You must understand the historical context of what’s going on.”

He said students also need to talk with each other more.

“I think we can get caught up in our bubble,” Lewis said. “I think that it’s important that you interact with multicultural students. Try to develop a sense of empathy.”

Students also need to speak out whenever they witness racism occurring.

“If you hear something that’s disrespectful or racist, call that person out,” Lewis said. “If we’re a K-State family, we should be able to be accountable with each other.”