It’s been nearly a week since junior in political science and president of America First Students Jaden McNeil posted a tweet that sparked a campus controversy.
In the aftermath, tensions ran high as student athletes threatened to boycott their respective sports until something was done and other students called for McNeil’s expulsion on social media.
President Richard Myers, on behalf of the university, pledged that Kansas State would begin weighing its options, but later announced no punitive action could be taken due to freedom of speech protections students have at public universities.
Other sanctions that may or may not be handed down for possible violations of the Student Code of Conduct would not be publicized, vice president for student life and dean of students Thomas Lane said, because disciplinary actions are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
McNeil did not respond to the Collegian’s requests for comment on this story.
In Myers’ most recent announcement, he laid out a number of goals the university hopes to meet in order to combat on campus racism and promote cultural competency.
“We focused a lot on free speech in the past and talking about free speech and that’s really important, but we also need to make sure we’re putting just as much institutional effort in the care and concern for people who are impacted by that speech,” Lane said. “And I think that’s where we can really try to help move the needle.”
One of the main points in the university’s plan moving forward is the formation of a student policy for social media usage. Currently, there’s a policy for faculty as ordered by the Kansas Board of Regents, but students are not actively subject to the same conduct guidelines on those platforms.
New student organization forces campus leaders to consider freedom of expression, principles of community
Lane said K-State plans to look at other schools’ policies as they begin to form one that works for K-State.
Some of these goals — like increased retention of people of color in the student body and on staff — are things students have been requesting for some time now.
“President Meyers action items did not propose anything revolutionary. The items he is putting out are things that should’ve happened years ago unprompted,” Ayana Belk, senior in landscape architecture, said via text.
This isn’t the first time K-State has hit the headlines for racially-charged incidents. In 2016 and 2017, a number of such moments led to the creation of KSUnite.
Just a few weeks ago, several current and former Black students took to social media to share their stories of being #BlackAtKState. Students who participated detailed microaggressions, discrimination and other challenges they faced because they are Black. A video to the same effect was also released.
Chief diversity and inclusion officer Bryan Samuel said K-State has been doing a “really good job” at responding to these incidents, but there’s always more that can be done.
“I think there’s a lot of good progress that has been made that I would really hope we as a university and university community would not overlook,” Samuel said. “Now, are we exactly where we want to be? … I would say without a question we’re not and I don’t know that any university is, but I do believe that we’ve begun a good path of action, a plan of action that can bring about some real substantive and transformative change for the university.”
Belk said she’s not expecting much follow through from the university on the goals laid out in the action plan.
“There is nothing in K-State’s history that leads me to believe they plan on following through with these action points in an effective or swift manner,” Belk said.
Instead of more of the same promises, she said students in multicultural student organizations — herself included — would like to see tangible changes, including an official process for “reporting racist incidents” and discrimination on campus, consequences for intimidation and harassment among others.
Another thing Belk said she’d like to see is revisions to the Student Code of Conduct.
Nathan Bothwell, speaker of the student senate and senior in political science and communication studies, said that process is already set to begin before the fall semester starts.
“The Student Code of Conduct is mandated to be reviewed every five years, and it coincidentally happens to be this very year that the entire code is being reviewed,” Bothwell said via email.
Something that’s different this time around, Lane said, is the dashboard the university will launch to track progress on these new goals.
“I think that’s gonna be a really important piece that might be different than how we’ve approached some of these more systemic issues in the past,” Lane said. “I think that’s a really important piece because that’s being as transparent as we can be about where we’re making progress, what challenges we might be facing in terms of a particular action item, milestones met, celebrating accomplishments.”
On July 4, students have organized a protest against campus racism and intolerance. The march will begin at 4 p.m. in Triangle Park and end at the President’s Residence on campus.
Additionally, a change.org petition calling for the removal of America First Students — a group that hasn’t met the requirements to be considered an official student organization by the Center for Student Involvement — had more than 10,000 signatures at the time of publication.
“The protest [is] not about one Tweet, one person or one group, but the overall culture and climate of KSU,” Bothwell said.