That was one of the first themes introduced at the first ever State of Diversity address at Kansas State University, in which Bryan Samuel, chief diversity and inclusion officer, highlighted the university’s ongoing efforts to promote diversity.
But at an address with no precedent, Samuel began his address by playing a video titled “Forward” to provide a backdrop for current diversity efforts to an audience of about 200 faculty and some students in the K-State Alumni Center.
“In 1863, university president Joseph Denison proclaimed full educational privilege to all, regardless of gender, race or creed,” the video proclaimed. “We moved forward.
“When George Washington Owens and Minnie Howell received their diplomas as the first African-Americans graduating from KSU, we moved forward.
“We chose to unite when racial tension and unrest were prevalent on many campuses nationwide,” the video continued. “When we pledged to focus on shared values and foster an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere, we moved forward.”
The address came about a year and a half after a series of discriminatory incidents — some revealed to be hoaxes or caused by weather — brought tensions to a head with the first KSUnite rally in November 2017, and a year after Samuel was announced as the university’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer.
President Richard Myers up the address and introduced Samuel.
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“As you can tell from the video, diversity and inclusion of values began with the early history of Kansas State through its creation as a land grant university,” Myers said. “Our mission today, as it was for those leaders of ours before, is to provide higher education that is accessible and practical to all, and graduate students who can immediately participate in the diverse and inclusive world they will enter.”
Highlighting his efforts on the job and the efforts of the university as a whole, Samuel said he’d embarked on a listening tour of campus, listening to individuals and groups from a broad array of stakeholders in the university’s diversity initiatives.
At the administrative level, Samuel discussed his own position and the hiring of Adrian Rodriguez, associate vice president for student life of diversity and multicultural student affairs, at the end of 2017. He said the administration is also working to update K-State 2025 — the university’s masterplan to become a top 50 research university in the U.S. — to reflect current diversity initiatives and goals.
“In updating the diversity elements of K-State 2025, it is our intent to define diversity and inclusion broadly and to ensure that all members of the Kansas State University family see themselves credibly engaged throughout all the thematic goals of the plan,” Samuel said.
Academically, Samuel said, the university has worked toward ensuring students take two courses with cultural competency expectations: a class that deals with diversity within the U.S. and a class that deals with global issues.
The university has also steadily increased its retention rate among minority student groups. K-State granted its highest number of degrees, 685, to these groups in the 2018 school year, Samuel said.
In Human Capital Services, K-State has focused on hiring a diversity-minded workforce by developing cultural competency frameworks to use when evaluating and hiring new staff and faculty, Samuel said.
Samuel also said continued promotion of diversity efforts will be key for K-State. Since the first rally in 2017, KSUnite followed up with a second rally last semester and has become a weekly newsletter highlighting the university’s diversity news and announcements. That newsletter is sent to students and faculty, as well as high school counselors and community organizers.
An update on the Multicultural Student Center
Rodriguez also gave the campus an update and a look at renderings of the Multicultural Student Center to be built next to the K-State Student Union along Mid-Campus Drive. Currently, $4.2 million has been raised for the project, which will start construction this summer and will be completed by Fall 2020, should funding rates stay steady and the weather be cooperative.
“It has been a long-standing vision, rich in history and led and championed by many visionaries at this university,” Rodriguez said. “Today, we stand poised to make this vision a reality.”
It’s been a process to get to this point, Rodriguez said, with years of work culminating in a series of approvals, the last of which the Kansas Board of Regents granted in December.
The limestone building is intended to be K-State’s leap into 21st century student center design, Rodriguez said, with a tall metal-and-glass façade overlooking the Union’s northeast entrance. The center will incorporate performance and gallery spaces, meeting rooms, a prayer room, a kitchen and a lactation room, among other uses of the space.
Rodriguez and the Multicultural Student Center Action Team will meet in the K-State Student Union this week between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to showcase the renderings and answers students’ questions on the center.