There was standing room only and some tears were shed in the Cottonwood Room on the second floor of the Kansas State Student Union as students and faculty of all races joined together to participate in an open forum put on by the Black Student Union.
On Thursday morning, a picture surfaced of two white females, one a former K-State student, with their faces covered in a black clay facial mask while making gang-like hand gestures with a caption that read: “Feels good to finally be a nigga.”
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Outrage poured out both locally and nationally which caused Black Student Union president Brian Davis to organize an open forum for that evening.
“Because of this morning’s events, an event like this was necessary,” Davis said. “The K-State Black Student Union has always been a preventative group but in order to make sure that the constituents of the black community and the K-State community as a whole felt like they had a secure and safe place, we needed to talk about what was happening and what was being done about it.”
Davis and the rest of the Black Student Union released a statement Thursday afternoon in response as a reaction to both the picture and a general uneasiness among the black community at K-State.
In the statement, Black Student Union laid out four requests to the university to “start creating social justice” on campus including the construction of a Multi-Cultural Student Center, providing more need-based scholarships to students, adding an explicit anti-racism policy in the student code of conduct (currently the code makes no mention of race) and the requirement of a cultural competency course in K-State’s curriculum.
“I feel like the majority of white people on this campus don’t understand where we’re coming from,” one student said, holding back tears. “They don’t understand how we feel. I wish there was something we could do to show them how we feel every day… We’re just trying to get our education like everyone else.”
During the forum, several students expressed their displeasure with how the university handled the situation, stating that the K-State alert email sent out by Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Pat Bosco wasn’t a satisfactory enough response given the situation. Later in the day, a letter from Associate Provost for Diversity Zelia Wiley was released detailing the matter further.
Bosco, who was present at the forum, spoke very emotionally on the subject and said that he was in Kansas City, raising money for multi-cultural, 1st generation student scholarships when he heard the news of the picture and rushed back to Manhattan.
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“I care and I listen,” Bosco said. “What I wanted to let you all know, individually, is that I heard and I hurt. I take this stuff very personally. This is our school that we love and in the last part of my note I said ‘we have to get better’.”
Bosco agreed that steps needed to be taken to make change within the University including but not limited to the four requests from BSU’s statement.
“I want to make sure we move forward,” Bosco said. “We wouldn’t be here tonight if not for the incident. We have a chance to move forward here as a family. Do we make mistakes? Are we imperfect? Absolutely. But the neat part about why you chose K-State is the opportunity for us to get better and make a difference.”
Throughout the frustration, some who spoke were able to find glimmers of hope including BSU advisor Brandon Clark, who meditated on the progress K-State had made in terms of diversity over the past two decades.
“As bad as things may seem here at K-State, this is my 20th year here,” Clark said. “I can tell you things were a lot different 20 years ago. Things aren’t perfect now but I am telling you now, there were students 20 years ago fighting for you to be here today.”
Clark also called the students to action, asking if 20 years from now, will multi-cultural students still be sitting in the same room dealing with the same issues.
“K-State has come a long way,” Clark said. “But I think we were further behind than other schools too so we still have a long way to go. We’re not as bad as some places but we are not where we need to be.”