OPINION: What can K-State actually do to fight bigotry?

April Mason, Provost and senior vice president of Kansas State University, speaks during the Black Student Union's Emergency meeting to discuss how we can combat incidents of racism on campus. At the Bluemont Room of the Union in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 1, 2017. (Photo by Alex Shaw | Collegian Media Group)

Are we done yet? Hardly a week has gone by in the past few months without some kind of bigoted vandalism or racist episode occurring in Manhattan. I think I speak for every journalist in the area when I say that I’m so damn tired of reporting on these same incidents over and over again.

As much as I love to complain — it’s why I’m the opinion editor — the good citizens of Manhattan still have to respond somehow to each of these incidents, one after another. I’m loving the solidarity events and the public declarations of unity by the good-natured folks among us, but one thing I see all too often is the idea that the Kansas State administration needs to take “further action.”

I know why people want K-State to help — they are a school, and thus they should be responsible for the lives of their students. But something is always nagging at me when I see this kind of outcry.

What can K-State actually do about bigotry? What actions can the administration take to punish or discourage the people responsible for vandalizing and terrorizing minority citizens?

I wish K-State could do something, and I think the administration wishes it could help, too. But in many of the incidents of social injustice that have received a public outcry this year, there is very little justice the university can provide.

The main issue is with anonymity of the perpetrators. The major incidents that have occurred this year were mostly committed by unknown persons in the dead of night only to be discovered the next morning.

Additionally, K-State has no jurisdiction off-campus due to its status as a public university. Unless a bigoted action is committed on-campus or by an identified student, there isn’t much K-State can do beyond the usual strongly-worded press releases.

I’m as sick of K-State’s copy-and-pasted press releases as anyone, but when people ask for “further action,” what does that entail? The university can’t possibly expel everyone who causes a social outrage, especially when most of these outrages are off-campus or caused by anonymous nobodies who may not even be students.

I suppose K-State could make an example out of the students who are publicly outed for insensitive remarks to dissuade the more insidious students from committing worse crimes, but this could have several negative outcomes.

The biggest issue is that this would be more ammo for bigots in Manhattan. If every student who makes a tasteless joke on social media is expelled after being tried in the court of public opinion, they could inadvertently become martyrs for disturbed individuals who are looking for a reason to hate the administration and its proclamations of diversity.

Bigots tend to justify their beliefs by pointing fingers at evidence of “injustice,” usually by arguing that the act of expelling students who say bad things and don’t directly harm any persons or property is a violation of free speech. There’s no way to win, and the administration’s hands are tied.

On top of that, expelling insensitive students who publicly cause a ruckus might be disproportionately reprimanding them for their crimes. While things like vandalism are obviously criminal, an insensitive joke, statement or idea is often caused more by ignorance than actual malice.

To put it another way, I think there’s an important difference between “hate speech” and what one might call “ignorant speech.” For many individuals, insensitivity is an ill that can be cured. As an educational institution, the healthier but less authoritative option may be for K-State to reeducate insensitive students with racial and gender sensitivity training.

Any student expelled for a callous remark will seethe in hatred for years, cursing the institution that unjustly ruined them while anonymous extremists continue to thrive in the shadows. Education is the best tool to help people realize the errors of their ways and fight bigotry at its source.

With mass expulsions off the table, maybe the solution is to catch more people in the act of social injustice. Unfortunately, that’s not feasible right now, and I’m not sure if I even want it to be feasible in the future.

Yes, there are security cameras on the K-State campus, but according to the university’s website, “Cameras are placed in strategic locations on campus, including some buildings and parking lots.” The wording of this statement and the complete lack of further information on campus security cameras leads me to believe that there aren’t very many of them.

So the obvious solution is to install more cameras, right? While I certainly think the campus does need more security cameras — I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one — there comes a point where it’s too much.

One of the biggest debates of the Information Age is whether we as a society want to prioritize privacy and liberty or security and safety. While that in itself is a topic for another opinion article, it’s important to think about what security measures would be required to catch anonymous bigots in the act of vandalism on this campus.

We would need dozens (if not hundreds) of cameras to cover every inch of campus. These cameras would all need to be monitored and maintained. If a perpetrator slips past the cameras, mandatory questioning and screening of dozens (if not hundreds) of individuals would be needed before K-State could officially “catch the bad guy.”

This hypothetical future K-State wouldn’t make me feel safe, it would make me feel scrutinized. Even as someone with nothing to hide, I would hate feeling like I was the center of a security guard’s attention every time I walked home late at night. Oh, and do I even need to mention the effect this heightened security would have on the university’s already dwindling budget?

I want K-State to bring in staff and students that accurately represent the diversity of the state, and I want K-State to include race and gender as topics in mandatory education courses for all students. But at the end of the day, the university can’t do everything. At some point, it’s someone else’s problem.

Kyle Hampel is the reviews and opinion editor for the Collegian and a junior in English. 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 opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Those words you just read were written by me, Kyle Hampel. I am a 2019 graduate in English. I have strong feelings about barbeque pizza and the Oxford comma. I am a former copy chief, community editor, feature editor, designer and deputy multimedia editor. Beloit, Kansas, is proud to call me their own, along with several other towns I've lived in that aren't as special to me.