Community dialogue address writing in Multicultural Student Center, university actions

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Nikela Reed, sophomore in theater, gave a speech at the Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs Dialogue on Monday, March 1, 2021, calling for more action on the 11-Step Action Plan for a More Inclusive K-State. The dialogue was a response to messages written on the open forum boards on Friday in the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center. (Bailey Britton | Collegian Media Group)

Thomas Lane, vice president for student life and dean of students, said the writing on the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center whiteboards on Feb. 26 did not break university policies.

Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs hosted a facilitated dialogue on Mar. 1 to address the controversial writing in the Multicultural Student Center.

“The writing occurred in what’s called an ‘open forum space’ that’s provided by the university,” Lane said. “The offensiveness doesn’t negate the hurt, but it was not an issue of a university policy being broken — it was a case of expression.”

“There’s nothing I can say right now in this moment that is going to satisfy your need and your desire. Nothing is more frustrating than to be in a role in which we cannot necessarily create all of the change with immediacy, in which we all want to see as a community,” Adrian Rodriguez, associate vice president for student life, said.

Rodriguez said no one can walk into a space and write something on the wall and defeat students. He said he is 100 percent committed and will continue rolling up his sleeves and doing the work.

Lane said the Multicultural Student Center believes they have a video of the individual responsible for some of the writing but cannot share it because of FERPA.

“It was gut-wrenching, you know, all the time and effort and energy that’s been poured into the efforts to bring the Multicultural Student Center to life,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve worked with many of you in that effort over the last several years to do that, and I know it was tireless efforts. I’m talking blood, sweat, tears and so finally for us to bring that space to fruition and to endure this in the first weeks which it’s been open. Trust me, I do feel that pain as well. And I do understand the interest and the desire and the need for more and I do not disagree. We need to be better.”

Thomas Lane, vice president for student life and dean of students, sits in between Adrian Rodriguez, associate vice president for student life (left) and Bryan Samuel, chief diversity and inclusion office, at the Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs Dialogue on Monday, March 1, 2021. Around 30 people attended in person and many more attended over Zoom. (Bailey Britton | Collegian Media Group)
Thomas Lane, vice president for student life and dean of students, sits in between Adrian Rodriguez, associate vice president for student life (left) and Bryan Samuel, chief diversity and inclusion office, at the Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs Dialogue on Monday, March 1, 2021. Around 30 people attended in person and many more attended over Zoom. (Bailey Britton | Collegian Media Group)

Community members raised concern for the safety of multicultural students at Kansas State because of discriminatory events like the writing.

“I appreciate the condemnation. It does nothing for us, though,” Winniebell Xinyu Zong, graduate student in English, said. “It does nothing because it does nothing for the people that have caused us harm. The condemnation does not stop them from doing anything.”

Nikela Reed, sophomore in theater, gave a speech taking a stance on safety and injustice of diversity within the Kansas State community.

“We walked into the Morris Family Multicultural Center on Friday and were met with dehumanizing statements,” Reed said. “We were blatantly told we had no right to be on this campus. We were told that we had no right to exist. Do not hug out racism. Do not sugarcoat discrimination.”

“We are calling for a complete reform of Wildcat Dialogues and diversity training for professors, staff, administration, students and organizations led by professionals from outside of Kansas State University instead of science teachers, football coaches and especially the staff and students of color to lead these dialogues — that is going to be no more,” Reed said. “Do not push your responsibility onto your staff and students of color at the expense of their traumas.”

Over the years, K-State encountered various issues with racism, homophobia and xenophobia, Reed said.

“Every story has ended in false promises made by the administration and endless statements posted online,” Reed said.

Monica Cohen, office specialist for agricultural academic programs, said something has to change, and people need to know there are repercussions.

“I have been here for 20 plus years, we have been talking and having this dialogue for every single one of those 20 plus years I’ve been a staff member here,” Cohen said. “It’s frustrating, it’s disheartening and as a black woman, it’s just downright disgraceful that after 20 plus years of being an employee of this university, we are still having these same conversations with no action being done.”

One allegation brought up during the dialogue included residential assistants calling the police on students of color for no reason other than sitting.

Olivia Copeland, junior in educational studies and residential assistant, said justice is needed for these situations.

“There are things you can do with your power in this university to stand against that show us in those instances … that there are repercussions for racism, for these slanders they wrote jokingly in the same place that the [Multicultural Student Center] was supposed to be,” Copeland said. “The building was built to foster and encourage diversity, inclusion, equity, community for these marginalized students.”

Bryan Samuel, chief diversity and inclusion officer, said many universities where action occurred around similar events were private universities. K-State is a public university.

“There are many universities throughout the country where these types of behaviors are equivalent or tantamount to being sufficient for punitive actions as such, but as you know at this moment, we’re not one of those universities,” Samuel said.

Samuel said the university wants to value every member of our university community, treating them with civility, dignity and respect. He said this is expected when students arrive.

“When I was hired, my appointment letter told me that I was bound by the policies and procedures and rules of the university, whether I read them or not,” Samuel said. “In my mind, it seemed to me that it would be good if our students had that same degree of understanding and expectation and accountability from the start.”

Lane said one bit of good news was the success of the unity conference in Housing and Dining over the weekend since learning occurred around issues such as climate, equity and inclusion.

“That gives me hope that if I see that kind of action happening with the housing environment that can be replicated throughout campus,” Lane said. “That is occurring in spaces throughout campus — that program made a difference.”

Chris Burrell, junior in mechanical engineering, noted several black students left the dialogue because they are tired of feeling unloved and unheard.

“We feel like this is a weak excuse,” Burrell said. “We feel like this is a sorry excuse, another bandaid that you all are putting on another multicultural and insensitive problem that continues to happen on this campus.”

Chris Burrell, junior in mechanical engineering, said many Black students left the Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs Dialogue on Monday, March 1, 2021, because they felt like no progress had been made on promises to help students of color on campus. The dialogue was a response to messages written on the open forum boards on Friday in the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center. (Bailey Britton | Collegian Media Group)
Chris Burrell, junior in mechanical engineering, said many Black students left the Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs Dialogue on Monday, March 1, 2021, because they felt like no progress had been made on promises to help students of color on campus. The dialogue was a response to messages written on the open forum boards on Friday in the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center. (Bailey Britton | Collegian Media Group)

In addition to walking out of the dialogue, Burrell said Black students are tired of having a multicultural administration — who say they have the Black community’s back and promise answers and policy responses — continue to fail them time after time.

“As I am sitting here in my chair and I’m hearing three guys talk to us, I hear words like ‘We hope,’ ‘Being reviewed,’ ‘It’ll take a while,’ ‘If I see it,'” Burrell said. “We know what needs to be done, so why are the actions not taking place? We have universities in the United States that are doing what they need to do in order to make people who look like me feel better on campus, so why is that same action not being taken here at Kansas State University?”

“What seems like a singular incident involving dry erase markers can transform into students withdrawing from your university,” Reed said. “Enrollment is already down, and it’s not just because of the pandemic. It’s because people don’t feel safe here.”

Richard Myers, president of K-State, will meet with the Intercultural Leadership Council on March 26. He was not in attendance at the dialogue.

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