Finding acceptance: Multicultural students share stories

A student fills in the Black Student Union design on a window in Aggieville for Paint the Ville on Oct. 17, 2017. (Photo by Regan Tokos | Collegian Media Group)

Racism does not always manifest itself as posters promoting white nationalism or a questionable joke on social media. Sometimes, it manifests in the day-to-day experiences of some multicultural students.

Sahiba Grover, sophomore in biochemistry, shared an incident when a housemate in the Honors House told her all brown people — referring to Indian people — are radicals. Grover reported the incident to her resident assistant, who she said did nothing to help. The same housemate made a similar comment soon after, calling Grover a foreigner despite her native-born American citizenship, Grover said.

Comments like this have led Grover, an Indian-American, to believe there is a disconnect between multicultural students, their organizations and the general student population, she said.

“Being a multicultural student on a campus that’s primarily suburban and rural area-type people, it’s important for minorities to have those people that they can connect with and feel at home with,” Grover said.

According to the Office of Diversity’s website, Kansas State has 29 multicultural student organizations that represent “historically underrepresented domestic students.” These include the Asian American Student Association, Black Student Union, Hispanic American Leadership Organization and Native American Student Association, as well as academic, Greek and religious groups associated with diversity.

Mirta Chavez, director of multicultural programs and services and graduate student in counseling, said each of these groups works to promote the Office of Diversity’s mission by providing programming and events that provide a sense of connectivity, community and diversity education for students involved in the organizations as well as the university at large.

The Office of Diversity meets with these groups to collaborate on programs and discuss any issues multicultural students may face on campus, thereby providing them with a voice.

Chavez said this was evident when K-State provided an immigration attorney to give free legal advice for concerned students following President Donald Trump’s announcement of the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“I’ve been here a long time, and I feel that K-State is truly supportive of the multicultural student population,” Chavez said. “I know that here lately there have been some incidents that clearly concern people, but as a whole, K-State has really done a good job.”

However, Grover said she does not believe tensions on campus will be eased until there is more collaboration between the organizations.

“We’re comfortable and happy in our small groups, but we need to expand that so we’re comfortable with everyone,” Grover said.

Grover said she would like to see the different multicultural student organizations interact more, raising awareness for all multicultural organizations and allowing the word “diversity” to become more than just a buzzword that makes people happy when there has not been an adequate response to racist actions on campus like what happened to her.

“K-State needs to reiterate that we are a family, and this kind of language will not be tolerated against other members of the family,” Grover said.

Jessica Elmore, a 2015 K-State graduate and associate director of diversity programs at the Alumni Center, has made an effort to ensure that multicultural students’ voices are heard. Elmore helped organize the Multicultural Alumni Council’s Student Listening Session, which took place Friday, Oct. 13, to have an open conversation regarding diversity and current issues on campus.

Elmore’s own experience at K-State has shown that incidents like what Grover faced are not isolated. While she was a student, Elmore went to Lafene Health Center and one of the staff members assumed she was on an athletic scholarship because of her ethnicity.

“The things that have happened on campus are new to some people,” Elmore said. “If that’s not your norm of knowing that discriminatory things happen in your own spaces, then yeah, you’re going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought we were so progressive,’ … but for some, this has not stopped.”

Four students spoke at the listening session. Elmore said she would have liked to have seen more, but it was successful for being the first one. Her goal was to create a space where open conversation could be had and students could feel there are people who are willing to listen to them.

Nakia Hope, senior in sociology and American ethnic studies, was one of the students who came to discuss her concerns and support the council’s effort to reach out to current students.

“I think it’s important for us to know that we do have a group of people who are fighting for us and fighting to have our thoughts and our voices and our opinions heard,” Hope said.

Hope said she has been “privileged” and has not experienced the individual cases of racism like Grover and Elmore shared, but she is still largely affected by the broader examples of hate speech and other racist acts that have gained momentum in the news and social media.

Being a student of color on a majority-white campus, Hope said she feels like she always has to represent other multicultural students when she is one of four or five students of color in a class. Because of these situations, she encourages the general population of K-State to “take a backseat” and put themselves in a space where they are not a part of the majority.

“I think it’s important for students who don’t experience those problems to put themselves in those spaces just to come and to listen and to try to understand,” Hope said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that some of the sources in the article were not associated with Multicultural Alumni Associations’ Student Listening Session. Sahiba Grover and Mirta Chavez expressed their views outside of the context of the listening session.