K-State wins HEED award for eighth year in a row, highlights progress still to be made

The Morris Family Multicultural Student Center, located next to the K-State Student Union, is home to the university’s multicultural organizations, including the Asian American Student Union and SPIC MACAY. (Archive photo by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from Insight Into Diversity magazine for its eighth year in a row.

According to the publication’s website, the award for the past ten years recognizes universities that display an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Universities may nominate themselves for the award, and the magazine’s publishing company representatives select the winners. The group assesses the level of dedication applicants display creating a campus culture that welcomes and educates all. The application asks questions about demographic percentages, methods of outreach each university employs and strategies used to ensure diversity planning and accountability.

The judging committee selected K-State and 100 other universities from a pool of over 5,000 applicants.

However, this is not K-State’s first run at receiving kudos for fostering a community of acceptance. Besides winning the HEED award every year since 2014, the university also earned the Outstanding University Award for Diversity, Inclusion, and Acceptance from Compete Magazine for the athletic department’s commitment to cultural competency.

Baruc Lombardo, freshman in mechanical engineering who came to K-State from Paraguay, said the university was a good introduction to life in the United States.

“K-State’s programs for international students are making it easier for me to adapt to the American culture and also to its educational system,” Lombardo said. “I feel that the university is doing a great job with its current programs and should keep doing the same for years to come.”

For many other members of the K-State community, this commitment to inclusivity is less apparent. The award is a testimony to K-State’s efforts to improve. Still, in the wake of several racist incidents on campus in the past few years, some students wonder if winning an award for diversity is antithetical to the actual goings-on of the university.

The past year has seen several racist acts in and around campus, from hateful messages about the Black Lives Matter movement appearing on whiteboards in the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center to white nationalists flooding a KSUnite Zoom event with inflammatory comments. This past year was filled with the Twitter hashtag #BlackAtKState accompanying stories of insensitivity and ignorance on campus.

President Richard Myers released The Action Plan for a More Inclusive K-State in response to the hashtag’s prevalence. The plan features steps toward progress, such as electing a student ombudsperson and improving the process for discrimination complaint intake.

Other university responses have included apologies and calls for student dialogue.

In a recent Instagram poll of 110 students, 61 Wildcats expressed they do not find K-State a diverse and inclusive space, and 48 others countered that they do.

Nadia Dupree Fogle, freshman in psychology, said much of K-State’s inclusivity is thanks to students rather than the institution itself.

“Currently, there are lots of student-led clubs who go out of their way to make sure that international students and people of color feel welcomed and important,” Fogle said. “This is absolutely amazing, but why does it have to be the students making an effort and not K-State?”

These student-led organizations and multicultural student organizations at K-State try to help make the campus a more inclusive one.

Big XII Conference on Black Student Government awarded K-State’s Black Student Union the Clarence Wine Award for Outstanding Big XII Council of the Year for 12 out of the past 16 years. The award recognizes BSU leadership’s dedication to creating a space of solidarity for Black students.

Hispanic, Native American, Asian American and Black students can also become involved in the respective groups available on campus.

Be Stoney, interim chief diversity and inclusion officer and K-State faculty member since 1999, said some students are unaware of their campus resources.

“We want to be more active in working with our international students and students of color and let them know that they do have a safe space,” Stoney said. “Both parties should understand that we are here to listen and to try to create solutions. … Some students don’t think that they have a safe space, but at the same time, they also need to reach out to understand where those are. Some students don’t realize that resources are here.”

As evidenced by the university receiving the HEED award, K-State continues to make progress in its efforts towards diversity and inclusion. The implementation of President Myers’ Action Plan and the efforts of student-led organizations have both been vital in the attempt to unify the campus.

However, some students say there is still work to be done to make K-State a truly inclusive space.