At 1 p.m. sharp, the bells in Anderson Tower tolled, signaling the start of the Kansas State Unity Walk to the K-State Student Union Ballroom. Waves of students, faculty and community members, some clad in purple, filtered into the room for the second annual KSUnite.
Close to 1,000 people found seats in the ballroom, with overflow options and a livestream available in spaces around the union for those who couldn’t be seated in the ballroom.
This year, KSUnite was not a response to a campus crisis, but a proactive measure to continually establish a “diversity continuum” within the K-State family, Bryan Samuel, chief diversity officer, said.
The 2017 KSUnite, the first event of its kind, stood against a backdrop of racial tension on campus. It followed a series of events that came to a head after a later-debunked racist car vandalism that took social media by storm.
“It was time to stop reacting to unfortunate events and start preventing and moving the needle forward to become a more inclusive campus,” Paloma Roman, student senator and senior in athletic training, said.
President Richard Myers described watching students flood onto Anderson Lawn last year as an emotional experience that brought tears to his eyes.
“During those troubling times, the K-State family chose to unite and validate long-standing university plans to pledge focus on shared values and a dedication to foster an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere where everyone is valued and where everyone can share and learn from one another,” Myers said.
Myers said, in unifying, K-State students and faculty were able to “change the dialogue” and ultimately define the identity of the university and shape its future.
“Today, we are here under somewhat different circumstances, but our goals are exactly the same,” Myers said.
Myers went on to name a few of the university’s accomplishments since the last KSUnite, including the formation of an action team dedicated to building a multicultural student center at K-State, the hiring of two administrators in the offices of the president and student life for diversity and multicultural affairs, respectively, as well as a number of honors awarded to the university for its efforts in diversity and inclusion. Such honors, Myers said, are a testament to the continued efforts of the community toward unification.
Samuel said a degree from K-State is not only a signifier of a mastery of a field of study, but also that these graduates are able to work “meaningfully” with individuals who have stories that differ from their own.
In spite of this progress, Samuel said there is still work to be done. Samuel called for the students and faculty to become “advocates” in order to amplify the voices of students who are marginalized.
One of four student speakers, Vedant Kulkarni, freshman in business administration and student senator, said coming to K-State was a difficult journey. He said he realized the only difference between himself and the people he was meeting when he first arrived was the country in which they were born.
Bernard Franklin, former special assistant to the university president and K-State alumnus, returned to K-State as the keynote speaker. At length, Franklin discussed his life and his journey from a predominantly black neighborhood in Wichita to K-State in 1971.
Franklin said when he had nothing, when he came from nothing, K-State gave him everything.
Franklin would go on to be one of the first African American student body presidents in the nation and would serve on the Kansas Board of Regents at the age of 24. Additionally, he was invited by President Jimmy Carter to serve on a commission that’s research would give birth to the Pell Grant.
“We have to continue doing the necessary,” Franklin said. “We have to. We have to figure out how to transform this place. We can’t wait, we must push forward.”
Overall, Myers said he is proud of the efforts members of the K-State family have put forth in taking charge to make K-State a home for everyone.
“Our work is not complete,” Myers said. “Let’s continue this walk together.”