OPINION: The K-State student open forum was not very ‘open’

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(Archive photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

On Friday, April 30, Kansas State hosted an open forum for improving campus climate. This open forum aimed to facilitate a dialogue with students to understand student perception about campus climate and discuss necessary steps to make K-State more inclusive.

However, as soon as the open forum started, it was clear it wasn’t exactly open.

Merriam-Webster defines a public forum as a government property opened to the public for expressive activities of any kind. However, nothing about this forum was open or expressive.

Firstly, what students thought would be an opportunity to interact with the administration essentially turned out to be an administrative presentation, which took most of the time. While the presentation contained important information regarding K-State’s plans for making the campus more inclusive, students could not interact or provide feedback.

The only action available was sending questions in the Q&A section.

Disabled chats, disabled microphone and video capabilities as well as some unanswered, straightforward questions were just some of the issues. Students could not use their First Amendment right to demonstrate support or dissent to any part of the forum discussion freely. It felt as if it was some sort of a violation of students’ right to free speech and freedom of expression.

In my opinion, since the audience of this event were largely representatives and allies of underrepresented students who have first-hand experience with bigotry on our campus, systemic discrimination might have played a huge role in suppressing the audience’s rights.

Funny enough, in my previous one-on-one conversation with President Richard Myers, I was assured all students have an absolute right to free speech at K-State. However, this forum did not allow students to either support or dissent discussed policies during the session.

For someone like Myers, who has held long and important press conferences regarding national security in his role as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he seemed more worried about dissenting 20-year-olds.

When Intercultural Leadership Council members first discussed the public forum, I specifically said the public forum should allow students to express their feelings freely. The previous public forum was much better because students could ask live questions — and at least speak.

When the ILC discussion ended, I was under the impression that all audience members would be able to tune in to the Zoom panel, use the chat function and unmute their microphone to speak freely with the administration. Man, was I wrong about that?

This shows the concerns of underrepresented students are not the top priority for most administrators. In my opinion, it felt that this public forum was an appeal to students to not be too critical of certain actions of the KSU administration.

I remember when an administrator lectured me after mentioning the presence of an invisible social class system at K-State similar to what was present before the French Revolution in France. However, this panel made me accept this theory, wherein the K-State administration is the First Estate Clergies and the students are rendered the Third Estate Commoners — the voices and opinions of the latter are seldom heard and rarely taken seriously.

While I am only 21-years-old and only recently started living a public life, I am confident I can host a better public forum, if need be, than whatever that forum was. I would at least allow my participants to, well, participate — be a part of the Zoom panel, talk in the chats and unmute their video and microphone functions.

The administration needs to understand if they want to regain students’ trust, especially underrepresented students, they need to do better. This act may have strained the relationship between the administration and students even further.

Has the administration become so blinded by arrogance and the power they hold that they cannot see the problems staring them in the face? The university stands surrounded by its students — countless brave students disillusioned by the administration’s leadership inabilities that they are on the verge of leaving K-State.

What does the administration do to pacify us? They stoke the fires of our indignation by dismissing our concerns or suppressing them with shallow and meaningless statements or such limited open forums.

But mark my words, if this administration’s attitude continues, recruitment and student retention rates — especially underrepresented students — will continue to decrease. This situation will eventually lead to the end of K-State.

Therefore, dear K-State administration, be better.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a Collegian contributor, a Collegian Media Group board member and a senior in management information systems and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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