The Student Governing Association postponed all of its legislative agenda items to its next meeting in order to deliberate over cultural competency and student safety issues on campus Thursday evening.
The main focus of conversation was the controversy surrounding the racist threats and slurs that were discovered on a Manhattan resident’s car off-campus Wednesday morning.
The vandalism discussed at the SGA meeting is the latest in a string of discriminatory incidents that have affected K-State. Last year, an alleged noose was found hanging in an on-campus tree during “dead week,” the week before final exams.
Earlier this fall, various posters promoting white nationalism were found on campus. In October, a homophobic slur was found in Bosco Student Plaza but was removed by campus officials soon after. A week later, a student posted a photo on social media referencing the Ku Klux Klan.
At the meeting, Tendai Munyani, speaker pro tempore and senior in management, asked members of the senate to take a moment of silence while he read the derogatory statements written on the vandalized car out loud.
Bernard Franklin, assistant vice president of student life and executive director of the K-State College Advising Corps, spoke about how prejudiced acts influence student life and the campus community. Franklin said he has witnessed racist acts influencing families who are concerned over student safety on campus.
“Our position is to help all students,” Franklin said. “I strongly urge you to do better and to overpower the hatred. This should be one of our highest priorities.”
Several students and community members spoke about their personal experiences and stances on racism as an issue on campus.
“Don’t let our reputation be sullied,” Franklin said. “This will impact our ability to recruit students of all stripes. Families of all races are calling me and saying, ‘I’m not putting my child in a racist institution.’ We all have to take a role in this.”
Franklin said he will work closely with K-State administrators through the end of the fall semester in creating cultural competency programs for the university.
“This is the only campus that has ever felt like home, and right now it doesn’t feel like home,” Edwin Butler Jr., sophomore in sociology, said. Butler asked senators to address issues like racism and vandalism “head-on.”
Jack Ayres, student body president and senior in chemical engineering, said the recent discriminatory incidents at K-State should not be tolerated.
“Take this seriously,” Ayres said. “The future of our university depends on it.”
Many initiatives are currently being organized on campus to increase community dialogue and cultural competency. Aliah Mestrovich Seay, new youth and adult audiences specialist with Kansas 4-H, spoke on reaching out to more diverse audiences at the SGA meeting.
“The voice of many
people weighing in is what this initiative could be,” Seay said. “We needed
this yesterday, and we are working on this tool with campus leaders.”
Ryan Kelly, student senator and sophomore in civil engineering, wrote a report earlier in the week, in which he alleged that he was harassed on campus. Kelly said he reported the incident to the K-State Police Department but that his claims were marginalized and dismissed.
“We need to continue the momentum, and we can’t let the
momentum die,” Kelly said. “We’ve had conversations like this before, and we need to make sure
SGA is held accountable. I think just hearing the stories firsthand in the room will hopefully
change the atmosphere of the student senate and change it for the better.”
Several student senators and community members broke off into committees to share personal testimonies and discuss actions that student senators believe should be taken on campus. Actions proposed by senators for the university include using Greek chapter time for multicultural speakers and holding a student rally with speakers such as Franklin and Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students.
“We’re done,” Franklin said in his closing statement to the student senate. “It’s over. This is your university, you take it. If you don’t do something, our enrollment will continue to go down, and that burden will fall on the students.”