Kansas State University seems to have had a volatile year in regard to having multiple occurrences of discrimination and violence toward various marginalized populations. As a student who has been enrolled at this university for six years, completed two bachelor’s degrees and is halfway through a master’s degree, this past academic year was one of the most disheartening to date.
Yet, the university has seemingly side-stepped every opportunity to try to improve conditions for marginalized students on this campus. K-State has released multiple press releases after incidents have occurred. But from a student perspective, the university has done nothing to actually change the conditions on campus that breed this behavior and allow members of the campus community to deem it acceptable.
One of the most prominent instances that occurred this past academic year was when a noose was found on the Friday before finals week. According to a May 5 K-State Division of Communications and Marketing press release, a noose was found hanging on a tree on campus. Yes, for those unaware, you read that correctly. A noose was found on campus. A symbol deeply inscribed from when predominantly white communities would gather to lynch people of color as a sign of communal racism and general hate toward people of color.
Within the May 5 press release, the university disclosed minimal information and reminded the public about the Principles of Community at K-State. The Principles of Community are broad statements explaining how those involved with K-State are honest, have integrity and value inclusion and diversity. These are broad, blanket statements are often not read by members of the K-State community and have no real effect on individual attitudes or value systems.
Three days after the initial press release, on May 8, President Richard Myers published another press release explaining how and why a noose is unwelcome at K-State. While explaining what visceral the reactions people of color have to images of a noose, this press release was essentially trying to paint K-State in a positive light through the darkness of this specific event. Take note that it took three full days after the incident for the president of the university to even respond.
Then, in the May 8 press release, President Myers detailed how the act of hanging a noose from a tree is unwelcome at K-State. Nowhere in the press release or in any other information released from the university has he or others in the administration detailed or explained any steps the university wants to or should take to prevent incidents like this from happening again.
The solution President Myers offered was for K-State community members in socially privileged positions to reach out to black K-State students, faculty and staff to better understand the violence of this act. But here is the problem with this solution: it is not the responsibility of marginalized communities to teach those in power and who have privilege how and why marginalized communities experience oppression. It is for those in positions of power and privilege to learn about and understand the systems they are complacent in and begin to dismantle these systems that oppress members of our community and society.
K-State has a racial discrimination problem. A press release or set of press releases is not going to solve the deep-seated institutional problems occurring at this university. K-State can not hide behind the guise of blanket statements to protect their image when students are fearing for their lives on campus.
This university needs to seriously reconsider how it values diverse communities. Diversity of all kinds needs to be centered in the university’s initiatives to create safe spaces for all students and faculty. K-State is constantly striving for recruitment and retention of students of color and faculty members of color and other marginalized populations. But if students and faculty members of color are fearing for their lives at this university because of the sociopolitical climate of this campus, these goals will not be reached.
We are all a K-State family. But that statement is as superficial as the K-State Principles of Community.
Jakki Forester is a graduate student in communication studies. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.