At the beginning of every football game in the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, K-State fans will look toward the student section to see them holding the giant banner with “family” sprawled across. For decades, K-State has built its identity on “family.” Generally speaking, a family is comprised of people who are able to find comfort and safety in one another. These are people who mutually love, trust and care for one another. Families experience good times and bad times, but it is not uncommon to have some dysfunction in a family as long as there is an awareness of the issue amongst the group.
Some students of color have found the idea of “family” a little far-fetched due to the recent string of negative events both campus-wide and nationally. Many of these attacks are based on ideas and agendas that are not empathetic nor open to acceptance, diversity and humane treatment for all.
Victor Ramirez, a Hispanic sophomore in philosophy, was all too familiar with the trends on campus.
“During my time at K-State and in Manhattan, a noose was hung in a tree, white supremacist flyers were posted throughout campus and blatant racist social media posts were all produced by the students themselves,” Ramirez said. “However, these outrageous and spiteful acts towards minorities are not the things I am afraid of while attending Kansas State; the systemic racism that has been surged through the entire community is the most terrifying act of them all.”
Some may argue that acts of hatred have been condoned, incited and magnified through the community and the media under the current White House administration.
“From my experience, Kansas State and Manhattan has been fostering racism for quite some time and continues to deny the liability and problems it creates for their underrepresented students,” Ramirez said.
The issues on campus range from blatant acts of indecency toward others, to subtle and unintentional expressions that marginalize a group of people. These experiences are known as microaggressions casual degradation or dismissal of marginalized groups. After the vandalized car incident in November, in which a black male defaced his own vehicle with racial slurs, many students found it hard to communicate and explain even after the truth came out.
“Talking about the issues amongst my peers and my community is not an easy task to accomplish, especially considering the overwhelming amount of doubt and blame placed on minorities,” Ramirez said.
Through their eyes
Wildcats share some of the microaggressions they have faced throughout their time on campus.
Andrew Hammond – African-American, Junior in Journalism & Mass Communications
“Being black at Kansas State, where do I begin? Well for starters, I have been at the university for two, almost three years. I have found myself getting closer to the black community more than I ever thought that I would. That has helped in my best times and worst times as a student, and for that I am forever grateful. My experiences at the school have been great for the most part, but I know and have experienced the worst that this school can offer…There have been times that I’ve been the only black person and some of my teachers have been harder on me than my white counterparts, and that has made me feel some shame from time to time. There are times where I feel I have been expected to be a slacker in class and will see other students pair up quickly for activities and projects, leaving me alone or searching for a partner, and sticking out in more ways than one. ”
Lolwa Alfoudari – Kuwaiti, Junior in Architectural Engineering
“I am a person who goes out to make this day a good day, so I believe if you go out with that intention it comes back at you. The energy you give is the energy you get back. So even if I have faced any racism, I don’t remember it because it didn’t make it through my filter. I am speaking on behalf of other ladies [Muslim women] who have faced bad experiences. Since I wear the hijab as a Muslim lady, one of my friends who shares the same identity, physical identity, which is wearing the hijab, was flipped off when she was walking to school. Thankfully, the university and our former president reacted to it in the proper manner. He sent out emails and met with my friend to assure that this would not threaten her academic performance.”
Colin Gardner – African-American, Senior in Construction Science & Management
“This was something that turned out to be more of a good thing. For me it was a negative thing, but it shined a big light onto an issue I see here on campus. It was a discussion in the Leadership Studies building after some racist things said on YikYak. A lot of people who agree with diversity attend these discussions. But a teacher forced her students to go for extra points and so most of her students came and one guy was trying to sneak out because he didn’t want to be there. He said some racist things. And that was like an eye-opening experience that there were still people like that in this world even nowadays. Sitting there in that talk, though, I watched that guy stay only because his teacher was in the room, and there was a big conversation about being inclusive and a whole bunch of stuff about diversity. And he was giving a lot of arguments back, and eventually it led to the point where he said at the end, ‘I understand now.’ So he left a completely different type of person than when he first got there. His demeanor changed from him sitting in his chair trying to leave, to him at the end very speechless and enlightened. That kind of stuff is cool to see.”
Moving Forward and Making Progress
The solutions to these issues will not appear overnight. They will have to be implemented over time at K-State. The KSUnite rally was just a start, whether a damage control tactic or a genuine effort toward unifying the school. In the hearts of many students, faculty, staff and the Manhattan community, this was a real moment for change and a push to fight for that change. Walking to Anderson is not an instantaneous solution, but actively listening and engaging can be the first step to a better tomorrow.
Multicultural students continue to demand an anti-racist policy in the student code of conduct, and need-based scholarships. To complement these resources, K-State should also recognize the need for cultural competency courses. The classes would teach students what is and isn’t appropriate to wear, eat and say when around people of a different culture, as well as discuss the lifestyles of different groups. They would also teach students how to respect other cultures and how to respectfully ask questions. Through this experience, students would gain a deeper respect for the many cultures and backgrounds. Through interaction, students can create a more knowledgeable and respectful foundation.
K-State should also recognize the need for a multicultural student center, a safe place for both students of color and allies. This multi-purpose center would allow students and faculty to facilitate discussions and events around inclusion, diversity and acceptance. It is safe to predict that this will be the heart of unity on the campus. Until then, students must find other ways to connect and learn.
Steps to Grow and Unite the Family
The university has never really defined what family means, but with a campus of 20,000+ students and 50+ administrators taking the time to build relationships, show interest in the cultural identity of peers and stepping outside of their comfort zones, we can be proactive in building the social foundation to become a true family.
There is potential for change and hope for success at K-State, but not without acknowledging that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. Wildcats must sit around and hash it out, like brothers and sisters around a table. As George Washington from “Hamilton: An American Musical” said, “I know that we can win, I know that greatness lies in you. But remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you.” Future K-Staters are looking to us to make a change, so when they finally make it here, they can experience the “family” the way we truly intended, with joy and a sense of pride.
If you or a friend need assistance and support, get in touch with these campus resources. They will gladly help you in any way they can.
Counseling Services: 785-532-6927; [email protected]
Office of Diversity: 785-532-6276; [email protected]
Office of Institutional Equity: 785-532-6220; [email protected]
Safezone (within Counseling Services): [email protected]
Student Access Center: 785-532-6441; [email protected]
These multicultural organizations are a fraction of those working toward an educated and united student body. They are open and accepting to all students, both those who identify as a specific race and those who have an interest in getting to know students from these different backgrounds. Meeting discussions can reveal ways to support and address students concerns and find ways to understand how racial issues affect students of color. Included are the presidents of each organization and how to reach out to them.
African Student Union: Ralph Armah – [email protected]
Asian American Student Union: Savannah Rattanavong – [email protected]
Black Student Union: Darrell Reese – [email protected]
Hispanic American Leadership Organization: Paloma Roman – [email protected]
League of Latin American Citizens: Leslie Ramirez – [email protected]
Native American Student Association: Tonja Wright – [email protected]