University, student leaders promote unity at KSUnite event

Kansas State students and faculty gather on the Anderson Hall lawn during the KSUnite rally in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 14, 2017. (Photo by Justin Wright | Collegian Media Group)

The bells inside Anderson Hall’s iconic tower tolled across a misty campus as a crowd of hundreds converged upon the field in front of Anderson Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

The K-State Unity Walk led into the KSUnite event, where university and student leaders addressed the the crowd of students, faculty and members of the community to reaffirm Kansas State’s Principles of Community.

Jack Ayres, student body president and senior in chemical engineering, began the event by addressing the crowd.

“Today, we are gathered as students, as faculty, staff, administration, community members, all together to reaffirm K-State’s commitment, our values and our priorities,” Ayres said. “Kansas State University has a unique opportunity to exercise leadership on national issues that affect our campuses here and around the country as we work to combat hatred as it exists in all forms.”

The event’s speakers included Mary Tolar, director of the Staley School of Leadership Studies, Tanya González, professor of English, Darrell Reese Jr., president of the Black Student Union and junior in mechanical engineering, university president Richard Myers and Reverend Troy Bowers.

“We need to have an overdue conversation about who we want to become, what it is that we value and what are our aspirations,” Myers said.

The event occurred after campus tensions spiked after the self-inflicted vandalism of a Manhattan resident’s car that featured racial slurs and threats. Other events — a homophobic slur in Bosco Plaza, white nationalist posters on campus, a Snapchat post referencing the KKK and the destruction of a Jewish religious symbol, which was thought to be an act of vandalism but turned out to be a result of stormy weather — also fed into tensions on campus.

“These events and many more that never get reported are directly affecting our multicultural students, our LGBTQ students and our black students,” Reese said. “We are hurt, we are discouraged and we are in pain.

“These incidents cause us to think: are we safe? Who can I trust? Do people really care?” Reese continued.

But he is not without hope, Reese said. He called students who feel negatively affected by these events to unite around the need for a multicultural student center, a cultural competency course, increased need-based scholarships and better campus safety.

Myers also spoke on unification.

“We do share a common humanity,” Myers said. “While we’re not all the same, we can understand what it means not to be seen, or not to be heard, or to be invisible on a college campus.”

Myers said K-State’s values are under attack in part by misinformation, hate and divisiveness spread on social media.

“I’ve seen this before,” Myers said. “Before, we called it terrorism. That’s how terrorism works.”

Like terrorism, social media recruits vulnerable people by creating fear based off false evidence, convincing them to turn on institutions, government and communities, Myers said.

“It’s good to acknowledge the specter of fear, but we won’t be captured by it,” Myers said. “We want to be, in one sense, an impenetrable community to fear but welcoming to learning and education. We won’t let fear dominate or define us. We’ll be defined by our common history, our common humanity and our common future.”

During the KSUnite event, classes and on-campus office hours were suspended to encourage attendance.

“It is very unusual for our college campus to cancel classes so we can walk together,” Myers said. “It’s much easier to do it at night. It’s much easier to do it on weekends. It’s more difficult but more meaningful to do it in the middle of the day.”

Following the speeches in front of Anderson Hall, the crowd was invited to participate in small group discussions in the Student Union on inclusivity and action to be taken to promote continued unity at K-State.

Hey, hi, hello! I’m Rachel Hogan, the copy chief for The Collegian. I’m a senior in journalism from Olathe, Kansas. When I’m not at work in the newsroom, I like to spend my time cuddling with my dog, working as a barista and laughing with my friends.