On June 16, Kansas State’s Multicultural Coalition released a video calling for action from K-State administration, including for student group America First Students to be “abolished.” As of Monday, the video had over 15,600 views on Twitter.
“To be Black at K-State means…” Amaya Molinar, sophomore in biological systems engineering, says at the beginning of the video.
“…having to sit in class by the Kansas Kool Kids…” Ravionne Pullum, junior in kinesiology, says next.
“…also known as the KKK…” follows Brenda Heard, junior in political science.
THE #BLACKATKSTATE VIDEO IS HEREEEEEE!!!! Thank you so much to all of the brave voices that were willing to speak up when many were not! We appreciate you! Read our organization’s response below! 🤎 pic.twitter.com/IiP3VqpENh
— just call me tori (@toriel_imani) June 17, 2020
The collaborative video comes after students in Kansas State’s Black Student Union and Multicultural Coalition created the Twitter hashtag #BlackAtKState to show what life is like for Black students at K-State. Students and alumni shared their experiences of discrimination at K-State through this method and called for change.
Michaela Ross, freshman in mechanical engineering, said the #BlackAtMizzou hashtag inspired the K-State iteration.
“These hashtags inspired other Black students from all over, high schools and universities, to address their issues experienced at their institutions as well,” Ross said via email. “The reason these hashtags are being created is to bring to light the reality Black students face within education institutions. This social media movement is exposing how there are absolutely no actions taken to adequately address the issue of systematic racism that is heavily present in our society.”
Former Multicultural Coalition president and senior in psychology and American ethnic studies Tori Swanson said the NFL Black Lives Matter video inspired the #BlackAtKState video.
“As former President, I felt that it was the right time to utilize this opportunity to hopefully bring out significant awareness to the problems that have for so long been swept under the rug,” Swanson said via email. “I wrote this script from a combination of the top tweets of the hashtag #BlackAtKState so those that have been watching can see and hear us as we bring life into what President Myers thinks are easily [dismissed] tweets.”
Swanson said Black students from all walks of life go through the same thing, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
“When you are forced to see the face of someone and hear the pain in their voices, it humanizes the situation and makes it more real,” Swanson said. “Forty-eight hours after our hashtag went viral, our campus president released a statement — I won’t call it an apology because nowhere in his video did he say the word ‘sorry.’ Our video was an attempt to get a more sincere apology that isn’t read off of a teleprompter, coupled with a list of concrete action steps to make our campus better.”
Yolanda Broyles-González, distinguished professor of American ethnic studies and department head, said when she has brought racist experiences students and faculty have faced to the administration, nothing changes. She said there is dismay or head shaking, but that is it.
“The video and all the commentary in #BlackAtKState is invaluable testimony from students concerning the spectrum of anti-Black, racist experiences at K-State,” Broyles-González said via email. “These racist experiences tend to be dismissed by the institution, not even perceived by many, and they are not understood for what they are: part of the American social fabric.”
The goal of the video, Broyles-González said, is to “expose racism and to end racism on campus and in society at large.”
“I think students for so long have played the the role of being the trend-setter, the change agent and bringing these issues to the forefront so administration and universities such as K-State can understand them and receive them and respond accordingly,” Bryan Samuel, chief diversity and inclusion officer, said.
Samuel said he had not seen the video at the time of this interview, but had seen many of the tweets with the #BlackAtKState hashtag.
Swanson said she received lots of backlash and some death threats after the release of the video.
“I’ve also received an immense amount of support for having the courage to speak out, so the good most definitely outweighs the bad,” Swanson said. “That just goes to show you that people know it’s a problem and [are] willing to support a movement that fixes that problem.”
Samuel said universities across the country will need to find solutions to the issues brought to light in way that is “appropriate for the educational environment.”
Adrian Rodriguez, associate vice president of student life in diversity and multicultural student affairs, said one of the greatest challenges is advocating for students of color.
“We have lots of work to do as a university and we remain committed and steadfast in creating even greater space and community at Kansas State University,” Rodriguez said.
KSUnite, Community Action Talks and diversity advisory groups are a few ways Samuel hopes to create dialogue around diversity and race on campus. Samuel said many things have been in the works before the hashtag took over social media, but students don’t always get to know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Swanson, however, doesn’t see KSUnite as a solution.
“As far as changes goes, the first thing KSU can do is get rid of the [performative] antics of KSUnite, because the majority of campus uses it as a day off instead of its true purpose,” Swanson said. “Kansas State can amend their honor code to have a zero-tolerance [for] hate speech and crime for those that are targeted and made in general.”
Ross said she also wants K-State to change. She said K-State needs to “realize the reality” students of color live in, make diversity a priority, implement a zero-tolerance policy and keep people in positions of power accountable.
“I hope this video demands no other options but change,” Ross said. “There are no excuses. The voices of the students of color on K-State’s campus need to be completely heard and acted upon.”
Broyles-González said education is important and calls racism a learned behavior. However, she said it can be unlearned through education.
“Black students describe an encompassing racist environment,” Broyles-González said. “We are an educational institution, and K-State has not prioritized teachings on race and racism. The American ethnic studies department is K-State’s flagship unit on race and racism. Why is this the smallest, most underfunded unit on campus? Why does this unit have no Black studies professors? Or Mexican American studies professors? K-State must invest resources here. That’s one way K-State can address racism: Through sustained anti-racist education.”
Broyles-González invites students to take AMETH 300: Intercultural Competence in Institutions.
“We created this course in response to a BSU demand,” Broyles-González said. “This course requires of students that they re-examine their race thinking and that they learn the histories of U.S. peoples of color. Every K-State student should strive to become culturally competent; that means acquiring an education that builds your ability to embrace a respectful multiculturalism. With that knowledge, we can begin to dismantle systemic racism that pervades education, work environments, families, economics, politics, policing, government.”
Samuel said another way to ensure education is available to all is to remove some policies and procedures, such as GRE requirements for graduate programs admission.
“We’re also going to be doing a number of things like trying to better understand the impact of policies and procedures on marginalized communities,” Samuel said.
Student organization issues
The video called for a “white nationalist group on campus” be abolished. Swanson said that group is America First Students.
“Kansas State cannot pride themselves on being a diverse campus while America First is running [rampant] all around campus,” Swanson said.
In the video, DJ Sanders, freshman in business administration, spoke for the group and said, “we don’t want to hear it’s protected by freedom of speech.”
While students across campus have called for the removal of America First Students, as an independent student organization, the university can’t dissolve the group. Rodriguez said the organization applied to be a group on campus and met all the criteria to be recognized as a student organization.
“It’s important that viewpoint neutrality is incumbent upon us and making sure that our student groups, regardless of their viewpoints, have the opportunity to be represented on campus,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the First Amendment is critical to university function. Samuel said no one understands this more than administration.
“We certainly understand that the thoughts and ideas of a particular group may not have met very, very well with our principles of unity, if at all, or may not represent who we are and where we are headed as an institute,” Samuel said. “But I’ve had some experiences … and I’ve known about other institutions throughout the nation, where any effort to curtail the right of student organizations or the rights of certain speakers who want to come to your university to speak on any number of different kind of things are met with unintended consequences.”
Ross acknowledges the First Amendment protects organizations on campus, however she doesn’t believe this extends to “derogatory actions.”
“There is an understanding of students’ rights to freedom of speech and that the university cannot legally dictate anyone’s viewpoint,” Ross said. “Yet, derogatory actions that target students of color should not be tolerated at all. We don’t care if people justify that statements were meant as a ‘joke.’ There should be no ‘beating around the bush’ for behavior that makes specific groups of students feel uncomfortable, unsupported and unsafe.”
Samuel and Rodriguez both said programs addressing diversity are always in the works, and the #BlackAtKState movement shows it is important these programs exist.