“Our Lens, Our Focuses, Our K-State” is the new theme for all diversity-related programs and activities for the Kansas State 2021-22 academic year. The KSUnite event showcased the new theme on Tuesday.
According to the KSUnite website, the event is a movement that provides students with the opportunity to participate in and embrace an event involving respect, tolerance and pride.
Emmanuel “Manny” Ugwuegbu, junior in biology and pre-med, said as a member of the KSUnite Committee, he saw why this event is necessary at K-State.
“We really need this at K-State, with everything that has happened in the last year including violence, stuff showing up in the Multicultural Center and last year’s event being hijacked with Zoom bombers,” Ugwuegbu said. “We really needed this year to bring students together to let them know that we still aspire to be a community.”
This year’s event featured two speakers who explained the meaning of community to the crowd. Ugwuegbu said the speakers were much better this year because they spoke about what we need to do, not things the student body already knows.
“They were able to define what it actually means to have a community, what it actually means to come together — not just as individuals, but as a modern family,” Ugwuegbu said.
The first speaker, Minnijean Brown-Trickey, was a member of the Little Rock Nine, the first nine African-American students to attend an all-white high school in Arkansas after segregation became illegal. As a result of her experience, she went on to help desegregate public schools.
“Her story was inspiring, learning about all these things she went through and how she channeled it into helping others instead of just getting over it,” Ugwuegbu said.
“I got out of her story that you cannot change people, but you can change yourself. She talked about change coming from within us, not from those around us.”
Ugwuegbu said Brown-Trickey’s take on community inspired him and gave him a new perspective to consider when talking about communities.
“She made me realize that unless we are willing to change and let go of the past to move into the present and bring everyone along with us, then we won’t make any strides,” Ugwuegbu said. “We will end up being one community that is broken into separate groups no matter how much administration tries to help.”
The second speaker, Caleb Stevens — an activist for social justice — talked about the essence of a community that brings out vulnerability, Ugwuegbu said.
“You have to be able to take risks that people will have your back when you need it,” Ugwuegbu said. “He said truth-telling and vulnerability can coexist, and that is what helps a community move forward. I loved when he said that a community is sacred and is built in honesty, truth, authenticity and treating others with respect.”
Vanilla Davis, senior in elementary education, said she was inspired by Stevens’ casual conversation approach.
“He kept it real with the crowd, which made it easier to understand the important topics he was sharing with us,” Davis said. “I loved that he was completely himself.”
According to K-State’s Diversity and Inclusion website, K-State has been honored for the campus’s dedication to diversity and inclusion, with awards such as the Insight Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award and the Big 12 Most Outstanding Black Student Union.
However, Ugwuegbu said he does not think K-State has reached that high standard yet but believes the university is on its way.
“In a way, we have gotten there, but in another way, we still have not,” Ugwuegbu said. “Our student body has been broken for some time, and right now, we are coming back from the pandemic and from people spilling out hate. That is not something we can recover from so easily, so yes, we do have an inclusive university, but it does not mean we are all working together for progress.”
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Ugwuegbu said most of the diversity and inclusion seen and experienced on campus results from the Multicultural Center and students attending events.
“Sometimes, when I talk to people, they do not want to get involved because they think we already have the Multicultural Center, and that is enough,” Ugwuegbu said. “So, from what I am seeing, I think we could deserve that award in a year when people start to get involved more in community building.”
Davis said her experience as a black RA opened her eyes to how uncomfortable conversations regarding race could be on campus.
“When race was brought up around my residents, whether that be because of something offensive they said or just because of an upcoming event, it was really hard to get people talking, and it was awkward,” Davis said.
She said it took students being exposed to racism through required class lectures to feel comfortable having conversations.
“We need more required classroom assignments to allow students to learn about racism,” Davis said. “When it is an event, most people read about it then do not attend, but when students have to engage in conversation, that is when they become more understanding.”
The KSUnite Committee wanted to listen to students like Davis, so this year’s event was based on what students wanted, Ugwuegbu said.
“We brought in speakers that would appeal to students, and how they would impact the university not just for the KSUnite day, but in the long term,” Ugwuegbu said.
Lonnie Hobbs, graduate research assistant in agricultural economics, led a Zoom breakout room during the event. Hobbs said he was happy with how the event went but agrees the university can do more to make a difference.
“The KSUnite event went very well,” Hobbs said. “However, to truly achieve an equitable and inclusive campus requires support and collaboration from faculty and staff to help our students understand the importance of diversity and inclusion.”