Students speak out against racial inequality on campus

Students participate in a die-in protest at the K-State Student Union on Nov. 3, 2014. (File Photo by Cassandra Nguyen | The Collegian)

The K-State community may call itself a family, but some students said more work is necessary to ensure all students feel safe and welcomed.

Multicultural Student Center

According to an article published in The Collegian in 2013, Brandon Clark, program coordinator for the Office of Diversity, said K-State is the only Big 12 school that does not have a multicultural student center.

The current Multicultural Student Resource Center is an office in the K-State Student Union.

“With the current multicultural room, I have become very comfortable with the area, but at the same time, I still feel as though the office is extremely hidden and very small for students, and even faculty, to interact with one another in,” Sterling Muse, junior in marketing, said. “K-State needs to invest in having a much bigger multicultural center office so the entire student body will be aware.”

Construction of a new multicultural student resource center on campus would give students a freestanding building dedicated to the needs of all the diverse students on campus, Muse said. Having a multicultural student resource center on campus would create more areas for multicultural students to study and meet one another, and it would provide a place they can go to feel safe and seek help from professionals, Muse said.

“With having this building built, whether I’m here or not, it will develop another home for these students,” Muse said. “This building will help these students out for generations to come.”

Social media

Melanie Horton, assistant to the dean of the College of Business Administration, addressed racist remarks made on a popular social media app, Yik Yak, in a Collegian letter to the editor published on Feb. 17, 2015.

Members of the Black Student Union held a peaceful demonstration to protest the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Participants held a die-in in which they laid on the floor in the same way Brown’s body was laid out in the street after his shooting.

In response, many anonymous comments were posted on Yik Yak that contained offensive and racist material by those who did not agree with the demonstration, according to Horton’s letter.

Some students, like Krystal Martinez, senior in animal sciences and industry, said issues like this show how much more work still needs to be done on the K-State campus to ensure everyone feels safe and welcome to express themselves. Martinez said she has personally experienced racism on campus.

“I believe there is a problem with racism on campus,” Martinez said. “I have experienced and know of experiences where other students have blatantly shouted racial slurs at female students of color without provocation. But the only time that hit me hardest and shook me up a bit was when a white female student asked me why I’m here. That simple question made me question my right to be at K-State. It made me wonder what it was that made her feel more entitled to being a Wildcat than me.”

According to Martinez, the type of racism seen on campus is more often “micro-racism,” meaning it is usually small acts that people do not realize are seen as racist.

“It’s walking into a lecture hall where everyone looks at you and wonders why you’re there,” Martinez said. “It’s when a professor tells you to get into groups and the people around you turn away to find someone else. It’s having the seat next to you remain unoccupied until it’s the final option. That’s the racism that needs to be addressed. It’s so subtle that you can’t call people out on it, but we have to find a way to make them aware. I don’t think it’s intentional, but that doesn’t dull the sting.”

Student efforts on campus

There are groups on campus that aim to help make campus more diverse. Brandon Kliewer, assistant professor of leadership studies, teaches a leadership in practice class that founded a campaign called Cats for Inclusion in the fall of 2015.

The goal of the campaign is to “advance anti-racism and anti-oppression through education, civic action and accountability,” according to Cats for Inclusion’s website. The campaign members plan to do this by raising awareness, advocating and maintaining accountability. They want to engage students in reflective conversations to use the ideas and responses generated to guide action to dismantle institutionalized forms of racism and oppression.

Over the course of several studies conducted by Kliewer’s fall 2015 LEAD 405 Leadership in Practice class, 11 students shared similar stories of racist and violent comments being made on Yik Yak during the die-in, according to Cats for Inclusion’s website.

Celine Beggs, junior in agricultural communications and journalism, said she was in Kliewer’s LEAD 405 class and helped launch the Cats for Inclusion campaign.

“The Cats for Inclusion project started when we were given a class project to complete,” Beggs said. “So we continued to learn about racial inequality, especially at K-State. We all started to develop a passion for addressing the problem and implementing solutions to the problem. I think no matter where you attend school, there are diversity and racial problems. Here at K-State, I believe we deal with them in a much different way than other universities and colleges in the Midwest because we are a K-State family. The issues are lessened, but they are still present.”

On Cats for Inclusion’s website, there is a space for students to send in their personal stories of racism on campus. There are also tabs showing statistics and research collected in group discussions held by the LEAD 405 class, as well as ways to get involved and a pledge that students can sign to show support for the campaign’s efforts.

To further these efforts, Kliewer’s spring 2016 LEAD 405 class initiated a project called Canvas of Diversity. During this campaign, artwork submitted by students and organizations were displayed on the temporary construction walls in the Union.

According to the official Canvas for Diversity flier, the campaign’s goal is to further the efforts started by the Cats for Inclusion campaign to promote discussion and awareness of diversity and issues related to diversity on campus.

Future LEAD 405 classes will continue the work started this year and will work to accomplish the goals listed on Cats for Inclusion’s website and any new campaigns or projects, with the end result being a more inclusive campus free of racial tensions and oppression, Kliewer said.