The K-State Student Union filled with students, faculty and staff on Wednesday for the third annual KSUnite. The Union Ballroom, Courtyard, Forum Hall and Wildcat Chambers reached capacity with people listening to speakers talk about their experiences, as well as hopes and dreams for a better Kansas State.
On stage, a sign language interpreter translated for the crowd.
While most administrators who spoke said they felt that KSUnite is working, they admitted there is more to do.
University President Richard Myers addressed the crowd and highlighted K-State’s achievements, and the progress the university has made since the first KSUnite in 2017.
“So, do we have it all figured out? Is everything running smoothly? … No, of course not,” Myers said. “But we have a lot to be proud of, and we continue and want to continue to make progress because … if we all commit to make progress, we will be getting better day by day.”
Provost Charles Taber highlighted the issue of privilege and how those with privilege should use it to help others.
“I’m really standing here today because of these questions,” Taber said. “Questions like, why do we have this inequality? Who or what is responsible? How can we create a more just world? Perhaps most important for me, what is my responsibility in this personally?”
“This question is most acute for those of us who have been privileged in life, you have had opportunities as others have not had,” Taber continued.
This theme continued through the following presentations. A panel of six students presented on topics such as race, religion, sexual violence, mental health and more.
Francisco Cardoza, president of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization and senior in management information systems, said he almost didn’t speak at KSUnite.
“I decided to speak to represent my community,” Cardoza said.
KSUnite, Cardoza said, doesn’t do enough to promote diversity and inclusion.
“There must be more. It must be more than just a box K-State checks each year,” Cardoza said.
Blanca DeLaTorre, senior in kinesiology, attended KSUnite to represent the League of United Latin American Citizens and support Cardoza.
“I would emphasize Francisco’s point — we need to work harder,” DeLaTorre said. “K-State is a great campus about accepting the minorities, but coming together as a united front for the university is something that we should really work harder to get to.”
Jansen Penny, student body president and senior in industrial engineering, spoke about his privilege as a “straight, white male” and how he can use his privilege to help others.
“I grew up in a pretty modest community,” Penny said. “All my friends look like me, all my teachers look like me and my mindset was severely challenged.”
Lindsay Gutierrez, senior in geology, had tears in her eyes as she spoke about her struggles with mental illness and suicide. As a veteran, Gutierrez said she struggled to speak about her feelings while she was serving. When she returned to civilian life, she became more depressed.
“I went from being told what to do, how to do it, to what it might be to civilian going to school, Gutierrez said. “I know I never had more time to think about my past. And I became depressed and it didn’t help that I felt so dumb around freshman straight out of high school. I started to put myself down and I withdrew myself by avoiding socialization.”
She adopted a service dog – named Bruce Wayne — and slowly came out of her shell. She said her dog made it easier to come out into the world.
“My experience with K-State was not great,” Gutierrez said. “And that was my doing. I wasn’t open and I kept quiet — everything and everyone bothered me. Since realizing that I was the problem, my experience has been great.”
Polina Nations, senior in social work and gender, women and sexuality studies, shook as she spoke about sexual assault and the importance of believing survivors.
“Sexual violence is about power and control,” Nations said. “It’s about each act being committed by someone who asserts that privilege and power over another person. For me, it was someone I trusted. It was someone I cared about. It was my boyfriend. I never thought it was going to happen.”
Gloria Mutiri, senior in mass communications, spoke on race and assimilation, something she experienced going to majority white private schools growing up. As a daughter of two immigrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said her parents were unable to comprehend racism.
Mohammad Khan, junior in biology, emphasized the importance of being Muslim for his identity. He began and ended his speech with prayers. He also encouraged people to pay attention to the treatment of Muslims around the world.
“It is the division of Kashmiri Muslims in India, the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China,” Khan said. “Learn. Learn more about the situation.”
Former Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Maritza Segarra gave the keynote speech. Segarra was the first hispanic woman to be appointed to her position.
“Before my selection as a magistrate judge in the eighth congressional district, no woman or person of color has ever been seated as a judge in the history of the state of Kansas in that Judicial District,” Segarra said.
Segarra disagreed with Cardoza’s point about working harder, saying that K-State has done a lot already.
She emphasized the need for diversity in positions of power so it reflects the community. This, she said, benefits minorities as they may feel more comfortable talking to someone who looks like them.
Segarra also said they can be an inspiration for the next generation.
“When people are in a group that include people like themselves, they feel safer,” Segarra said.