OPINION: Next president should be from historically excluded group

(Archive photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

President Richard Myers dropped a bombshell earlier in May when he announced his retirement from Kansas State. With Myers leaving at the end of this calendar year, the position of the President of Kansas State University has been vacated. The Kansas Board of Regents has formed a committee to get K-State a new president.

While the committee has an unfair representation of students compared to the overwhelming representation of the privileged bourgeoisie class, it does have some good leaders serving on it. As this committee searches for the new president, it should prioritize electing an individual who belongs to a historically excluded section of the society as the next President of K-State.

K-State has an unfortunate history of racist and discriminatory incidents happening on our campus. Whether it is xenophobic posters being posted across campus in 2017, the dastardly hijack of KSUnite by bigots led by a former K-State student or the vandalization of whiteboards in the Morris Family Multicultural Students Center, K-State is not new to bigotry on campus. As the university moves ahead, it needs a leader who understands student struggles on campus.

The webpage about the president’s position profile on K-State’s website talks deeply about how the president needs to be a “visible and engaged leader.” This means that the president should also be visible and engaging with students and participate in rallies and marches that students host to promote equity and inclusivity on campus. This is something that did not happen for the past few years.

When it comes to issues of bigotry and hatred on campus, all university leaders are against it. However, suppose the person in the position belongs to the dominant campus community. In that case, they cannot relate to students who are the unfortunate recipients of the hateful attacks on campus. It is not something that the leaders do on purpose.

However, it happens indirectly through their actions or inactions because they have never experienced what underrepresented students experience on campus every day. The institutional, systemic discrimination that exists wildly everywhere benefits members from the dominant communities in ways they do not completely comprehend.

To counter this, the K-State Presidential Search Committee must prioritize filling the position by hiring an individual belonging to a historically underrepresented community. If the new president is a woman, a person of color, LGBTQIA+, immigrant, belongs to a different socioeconomic class, has ability differences or a combination of any of these and other intersectional identities, it would be heavily beneficial for K-State.

An individual belonging to a historically underrepresented identity has experienced struggles that a dominant community member has not. A cis, white, straight male from the baby boomer generation cannot relate directly to a student on campus. Therefore, a president from an underrepresented community would be a more “visible” and “engaged” university leader.

An example of this can be how many members and university leaders are absent when students protest discrimination on campus. Soon-to-be former President Richard Myers claims to support underrepresented identities on campus. However, he was absent from the BLM protest on campus this past July, even after saying he would be there.

When Myers was asked why he was absent from the public forum with Dr. Lane, Dr. Samuels and Dr. Rodriguez that took place in the wake of the vandalization of the whiteboards on the Multicultural Students Center, he said in an ILC meeting that it was because he was “not invited.” It is important to note that the public forum with the leaders mentioned above and the public forum that President Myers had with the help of ILC on April 30, 2021, cannot be located anywhere on K-State’s website or YouTube channel. Wonder why?

This statement was hurtful and unfortunate. In complete honesty, it is not completely Myers’ mistake. His privilege did not make him realize that his presence was needed at that meeting. His cabinet members, most of whom belong to the dominant community, did not realize that they should advise him to attend the event, again because of their privilege.

These problems will be reduced drastically if the new president is a member of underrepresented communities. The reasoning for this is that this person would have probably experienced the same things that minority students on campus do. This person would be able to recognize microaggressions from a thousand miles away. This individual would relate to students’ pain and participate in protests that students put up to fight bigotry on campus. This person would not be afraid to come on camera as soon as an issue happens, unequivocally condemn discrimination in front of the world and not be afraid to call out racism.

This person would not be afraid to dip their toes in the grey area of the First Amendment and try to find creative ways to expel racist students from this campus, or at the very least, have their privileges such as scholarships and aids taken away for their bigotry. They would not need the SGA International Affairs Director to email them about any incidents on campus. Rather, they would take the initiative to arrive at an incidence of racism and try to better the situation by being present in the moment.

Underrepresented groups have unfortunately been the recipients of ill-treatment across the world. We have been traditionally left out of positions of power because of our vocal nature against bigotry. However, our will to fight for our rights and ending bigotry makes us stronger. This willpower for social justice makes a historically excluded and underrepresented candidate a better candidate for an inclusive university leader and President.

The University and Presidential position profile mentions Diversity and Inclusion topics only twice — once on page seven and once on page 14 — as an introduction to D&I and K-State, and a leadership attribute. It does not occupy enough space to talk about bettering DEI initiatives on campus, which shows the amount of importance given to these issues.

Therefore, getting a president that prioritizes those aspects and other aspects equally is important for the development of K-State. The president needs to be chosen wisely, and given the world we live in, a priority should be given to a person from underrepresented groups to serve.

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.