How #BlackAtKState initiated a push for institutional change

(Illustration by Julie Freijat | Collegian Media Group)

Cara Bruce didn’t expect #BlackAtKState to attract much attention when she first tweeted it from the Black Student Union account in June. If she saw 20 tweets, she said she would have been happy with that result.

“My goal was to raise the awareness that students at K-State do face racial injustices,” Bruce, president of the BSU and junior in social sciences, said.

But she didn’t see 20 tweets.

Instead, Bruce said her phone blew up. Current and former Black students from Kansas State shared thousands of tweets using the hashtag in a matter of days.

“I did not understand what was happening,” she said. “It was like a rush of adrenaline. I was like ‘What is going on right now — there are so many tweets.’ … I was reading everybody’s tweets and I was like this is ridiculous.”

Melina Alferoff, BSU vice president and junior in biological and agricultural engineering, said she was also “shocked” by the number of people who used the hashtag to share their stories of what it’s like to be Black at K-State.

Alferoff shared her own experiences feeling silenced in spaces dominated by white males, like her engineering courses, using the hashtag.

“I feel as if I’m always talked over or dismissed by other students,” she said.

For Maia Lewis, senior in mass communications, sharing in the thread of tweets helped her feel seen, but it also connected her to other Black students.

“I was able to relate to a lot of the other #BlackAtKState comments that were made, and I was able to see their hurt,” Lewis said. “When we come together, we don’t really talk about all the things that happen to us day-to-day. … I feel like a lot of our stories are really similar because they were all about us being just unaccepted or neglected.”

That sharing is what made #BlackAtKState so powerful, Bruce said — it bypassed the instinct to “hold back” those experiences. Instead of keeping them to themselves, Black students could be honest about what they experienced in a public manner.

Push for progress

Afterward, Bruce said she felt the need to push for more progress and improvement in K-State’s handling of issues related to diversity and cultural competence. As a student leader, she said she needed to support Black students who dealt with racism, discrimination and microaggressions.

In the months since #BlackAtKState trended, university administration announced a series of 11 checkpoints that make up the Action Plan for a More Inclusive K-State. Among them include plans to increase retention of students and faculty of color, adding a multicultural overlay requirement to all degree programs and implementing a “‘truth, racial healing and transformation’ framework.”

President Richard Myers said #BlackAtKState wasn’t the only catalyst for the action plan to take shape but was one in a series of events over the summer that culminated in one major push for change.

At this point, according to the tracking website, all goal points remain in the “planning” or “in-progress” phase and none have reached the formal “launched” phase yet.

All 11 goals are prioritized equally in the scheme of things, Myers said, but some may see major progress sooner since they require less institutional changes. For instance, K-State is on track to meet its goal to hire a Student Ombudsperson to lead an office meant to help students handle discrimination and racism they encounter.

Other goals, like the one to review all university policies and rules to weed out problems, is a large task — one slowed by a pandemic that limits in-person meetings and face-to-face conversation.

“As you can imagine, this is a large university, it’s like a proverbial aircraft carrier trying to turn,” Myers said. “It took decades to write a lot of those policies, so they’re not going to be fixed overnight, but we’re in the process of doing that and we’re committed to doing that. Nobody can wave a wand and say ‘Make it this way’ — we have to work at it.”

In the near future, Alferoff hopes to see K-State follow through on its goals to set aside more need-based scholarships to help attract students to campus who otherwise might be left out.

“By K-State going through with scholarships that are targeted toward minorities, that will help more students feel like K-State actually wants us here by giving us funds to actually be at K-State,” Alferoff said.

Looking toward the future

These goals are good starting points Bruce says, but she hopes to see more in the future. She also hopes to see the same intensity for these changes linger after the heat of the moment has faded.

Myers says once these goals have been met, the journey to creating a more inclusive campus will not stop.

“There is no endpoint. There is no checkered flag and you go across the finish line you say ‘Aha, we’ve made it,'” Myers said. “It’s something we’re gonna have to work on forever. As we get through these action steps, we’ll look at other opportunities.”

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.