EDITORIAL: After KSUnite, K-State must back up lofty words with real action

Students, faculty and staff watch a live video feed of the KSUnite rally in the Student Union Courtyard. The second annual KSUnite was held Tuesday. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

With noble ambitions and some of Manhattan’s most important speakers, KSUnite began as a pro-diversity rally and educational event in fall 2017. This year’s KSUnite is the second ever, and the event’s planning committee has said it wants to make this an annual tradition.

The first KSUnite was obviously a response to a string of local events throughout 2017 that left many students feeling uncomfortable — a hanging noose, a series of white supremacy posters, a homophobic slur in chalk, a self-vandalized car and more.

However, a question arises from this year’s rally, one that the Collegian’s community editors even discussed: was a second KSUnite even necessary?

The Collegian strongly supports the principles of diversity and inclusion — diversity of color, orientation, political affiliation and more — and K-State’s administration clearly values these principles as well. The various speakers at yesterday’s KSUnite event, including university president Richard Myers, reminded listeners of K-State’s Principles of Community and proclaimed the university’s support for “diversity and inclusion” — those words in that order, almost every time.

The problem is that KSUnite, both last year and now, is not including its most important demographic: the students who need to hear these words.

The KSUnite rally was so important to the administration that the university canceled nearly every class that overlapped with the scheduled rally time. This was to ensure that any student who wanted to attend KSUnite was able to do so, but that’s the issue. Any student who wanted to go, could — but many students weren’t interested in the first place.

By and large, the attendees of KSUnite were people who already agreed with its central message. While we fully believe in the significance of the topics and speakers at KSUnite, it is not a stretch to think that some of the people who didn’t attend would consider the event a farce — an echo chamber where students, faculty and staff with progressive values pat each other on the back for doing a good job of not being outwardly discriminatory.

KSUnite has undoubtedly had a positive impact on students, particularly by helping students in minority groups feel like they’re not alone. But it is not directly confronting any problems or issues, and that in itself is a problem.

Students harboring ill will toward people who are different from them see the advertisements for KSUnite and decide to stay home because their classes are canceled and rally attendance is not mandatory. They see the repetitive language — “diversity and inclusion,” “commitment to diversity,” — and they think these useful terms are being recited like buzzwords in a thoughtless, corporate manner.

These are the students who need to have their views challenged and questioned, and KSUnite is not for them. The rally is effectively just a parade, a show of support from a scholastic entity that is socially obligated to support diversity in the modern day unless it wants to cause a national outrage.

So, is KSUnite necessary? It’s hard to say no. For many students who come from different countries or minority races, feeling welcomed and supported by the university can be a vital part of their K-State experience. It’s also important for the administration to remind students of its expectations.

However, something needs to change. There are still students at K-State who hold negative opinions of other races, religions and so on. They see buzzwords, and they’re confused. They see slogans, and they’re laughing.

The KSUnite rally itself should probably not be mandatory for logistical reasons, but the administration should consider adding to it or outright replacing it with something that will create an impression on all students and change them for the better. Mandatory classes are an option, but lessons in diversity must be taught carefully to avoid going over people’s heads and being dismissed.

KSUnite had an impressive showing this year, even though it was indoors. Between the K-State Student Union Grand Ballroom and all the other rooms it was being broadcast into, it easily could have had 2,000 people watching.

But that’s 2,000 people out of around 20,000 enrolled students. K-State isn’t challenging the students who disagree with its principles, and the inspiring speeches at KSUnite are failing to have as big of an impact as they should.

Leaders in the K-State community said many words about their commitment to diversity yesterday, but many in the student body are waiting for tangible action. Better education on the importance of diversity, better graduation rates for minority students and the construction of the long-awaited Multicultural Student Center are all things K-State needs to work on.

Words are a start, but they need to be translated into action. For these reasons, we urge K-State administrators to show us, not tell us, how the university is committed to diversity and inclusion.