MANHATTAN — Kansas State University provides a safe and inclusive environment but can do more to meet the needs of those from minority communities, students and administrators said Tuesday at a unity rally held following a string of racially-charged or discriminatory incidents on campus.
The university canceled classes Tuesday afternoon for a unity walk that took students to the front lawn of Anderson Hall, where they participated in the “KSUnite” rally, which featured campus leaders and students.
Some students on campus reported feeling divisions following a string of vandalism and racially insensitive actions on campus this year and last, though two incidents were incorrectly reported. The KSUnite event presented an opportunity to reaffirm the college’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in a student body that dubs itself a “family.” Student body president Jack Ayres said it was the first time since the 1960s the school canceled classes for any reason other than weather.
“We want to come together and reaffirm our commitments and reaffirm our principles and our values,” Ayres said.
Last year, two students sent a Snapchat, wearing apparent blackface and captioned the photo with a racial epithet. In May, a noose was found hanging from a campus tree. This fall, fliers with white supremacist messages were found on campus, and anti-gay vandalism was found outside the student union.
A Jewish ceremonial tent was destroyed in October, but officials later determined it was the fault of inclement weather. A Manhattan man admitted earlier this month he defaced his own car with racist graffiti and filed a false police report.
Darrell Reese, president of the school’s Black Student Union and a student ambassador, said he thought it was time for K-State president Richard Myers to address students on diversity and inclusion following the incidents. Reese, 20, of Dallas, said he thought the schools overall environment was safe and inclusive. He addressed students and faculty at the KSUnite rally.
“Even though I’m hurting, I’m hopeful,” Reese said. “Even though I’m saddened, I have not lost my faith, and you shouldn’t either.”
Myers told the crowd he thought members of campus needed to have more conversations about what they wanted the school to be. He said it was defined, in part, by its past and present.
“But we are also and more importantly defined by who we want to become,” Myers said.
Myers said the campus wanted to be welcoming and a learning environment, not fearful.
“We won’t let fear dominate or divide us,” Myers said. “We’ll be defined by our common history, our common humanity and our common future.”
Reese said he wanted to remind students of color they were still on campus despite the hurtful incidents.
“Let me tell you that you represent excellence,” Reese said. “Despite your history, despite hatred, despite racism, despite how these incidents have affected you, you are still here.”
The discriminatory incidents, including those that turned out to be false, created a“tense” environment, Reese said in an interview.
“At K-State, we’ve always been a campus that’s committed to family being united,” Reese said. “The sad part is that not everybody feels that way.”
Ayana Belk, a freshman from Kansas City, Mo., said she thought each racially-charged incident harmed the campus culture at K-State. At some points, she said she was ready to go home to Kansas City.
“They make people that you never would have thought of come to the defense of whoever did the events. They make people feel like they’re not wanted here,” Belk said. “They just make a lot of trouble and it causes a lot of issues. Every instance is like another fracture, basically, in the foundation of K-State, which is supposed to be diversity and inclusion and family.”
Belk, 17, said she was a member of the unofficial Project Inclusion group that seeks to bring together groups from across campus.