There is no doubt that 2020 has been awakening, scary, monumental, unpredictable, transformational and everything in between. From COVID-19, to the deaths of Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman, to the wildfires and police brutality, we have all experienced things we hoped to never encounter in our lives. The death of George Floyd sparked a movement of protests, but his murder was not the first or the last killing that scarred and bruised the black and minority community. Recent studies have shown that anywhere from 15 to 26 million people have protested in support of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. These protests are not only fighting for justice for Geroge Floyd, but for Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the countless others who have died at the hands of the very people who are supposed to protect them. People of color are scared of dying solely because of the color of their skin. Racism exists everywhere, in homes, shopping malls, grocery stores, the workplace and the classroom. And yes — here at K-State.
Recently, online sessions were held for the 2020 KSUnite on October 13. Unfortunately, white surpremacist groups were ready to infiltrate the sessions and send messages of hatred, bigotry and racism in the chat. Multiple students received personal messages, some even got death threats. On the YouTube livestream session, comments flooded the chat, leaving presenters speechless. Senior Kegan England watched in shock as the events unfolded.
“I was on the live stream and in the comment section people were posting things like ‘groyper’ which is a white nationalist group,” she said. “Multiple other slurs were being thrown out by some commenters and directed at the speaker who was an African American male. The facilitator ended up having to turn off the comments. At the end, the facilitator apologized to the presenter about the comments that were made. The other video on YouTube had even worse comments on it and it was honestly appalling.”
A student activist and immigrant from India, Vedant Kulkarni, received death threats from bots in the Zoom session he was attending. He recalled that some of the bots renamed themselves to his name, to try to ruin his reputation. Other hackers renamed themselves to “Thomas Lane” and “President Meyers” to send heinous messages. He decided to take a video of the messages, which is still up on his Twitter page.
“The scariest part was that it was a virtual identity theft and they can do it here,” Kulkarni said. “They can do it at other events and other places across the university. I know in different Zoom sessions some people felt personally targeted. Basically they were jumping from one session to another and the alleged perpetrator was live streaming it on his twitch so you know they were very proud of being able to hijack a zoom session.”
Twitch is an online live streaming website popular with video gamers and apparently hackers who are proud to show off their infiltration of a university wide Zoom.
“I put my laptop in my bag and I just ran to the campus to find any administration who’s willing to talk to me to tell them what’s happening,” Kulkarni said. “I went to student leaders and I was invited to the student Senate that night to talk about what was happening and that entire week is a complete blur to me, between Tuesday and Saturday because it was like one meeting after another, talking to one another and the cyberbullying continued for like seven days.”
Kulkarni received an immense amount of support from the administration, the Office of Student Life, his professors and his peers. He is grateful to have spoken at KSUnite two years ago, which is what he says propelled him into activism.
“That’s what my family says, college in America turned me into an activist. And that’s not a bad thing, but they get scared because of the things that I have to face and so I have to really be careful of the words I choose at home. The past few weeks have turned me into an even bigger [activist]. It made me realize that I cannot stay silent. At this point I need to keep the momentum going on, I need to continue.”
Despite the backlash, students who received messages from bots hiding behind a screen at KSUnite are able to press on and share their experiences. Much like in the campaign started by the Black Student Union this past summer, #BlackAtKState.
If you search #BlackAtKstate on Twitter, you will find countless numbers of tweets by K-State students telling their stories and experiences of being black at K-State. If you are choosing to look the other way, you are part of the problem. Here are a few stories from minority students who were strong and brave enough to share their experiences, in order to help us make the changes we desperately need.
Anonymous- “It was Spring 2019 and I was in an animal science course with Dr. Dave Nichols. It was the first day of class and he was having us talk about ourselves, and there was a Chinese student who shared a bit about herself. The next day in class, he was asking about exotic meats we’ve eaten and he pointed at me, an Asian American student, and said ‘How about our Chinese student?’ I said ‘I’m American?’ What really pissed me off about this was that I don’t even look remotely like the Chinese student, [whereas] she was barely five feet tall, with a pale complexion and jet black hair. I am taller and have tan skin and brown hair. We don’t look alike at all. It felt just like the stereotype that we all look the same. And the worst part is, he didn’t even apologize to me afterwards, and proceeded to be very rude to me for the rest of the semester.”
Jason Potter- “Being in classes that have maybe five other POC can be intimidating. With all the police brutality, riots and other racial differences that go on, people’s true colors are showing and being in a room full of the opposite race can make you question everything. It’s a comforting feeling being able to turn to someone who looks like you. Growing up in Johnson County, there have been countless times store clerks will follow me around the store or make sure and peak down aisles every now and then. Even when I’m driving home, I’ll go through the neighborhood and neighbors will just stare with uninviting faces. Even though I’ve lived there for years and everyone knows me, it seems as if they are almost trying to scare me away. It’s a really lonely feeling. Being a minority is something I’ve never mastered to be comfortable with. I will never forget when I was about 15, I applied to work at the Ad Astra Pool. During the interview over the phone, the interviewer asked me, ‘What do you do differently than other African Americans, what sets you apart?’ And that was the day that opened my eyes to how evil this world is. Coming up through elementary and middle school, all my teachers were also white, so not seeing anyone like me until I’d go home was a feeling that’s hard to explain. I didn’t have an African American teacher until eighth grade, during that class there was only one other black kid and the teacher wouldn’t give us any extra attention during class, which made her a great teacher.”
Anonymous- “My freshman year here at K-State I had a pretty racist roommate. She even called me the ‘little brown one’ behind my back. She was always very subtle when she would say things to me. I remember my friends and I were re-heating some Chilli and she asked if we were making tacos. She always mentioned how Hispanics were loud and dramatic. I honestly don’t know how I lived with her for a year.”
It is 2020, we need change right now. Not tomorrow, the next day or election day. The change starts with you and how you treat others. We can all work on educating ourselves. You can start by reading a book on racial injustice, listening to your friends’ stories about their experiences, watching a documentary, or attending a Black Student Union meeting. Check their Instagram for announcements and events. Below is a list of resources for your self education. Keep fighting and keep the conversation about racial injustice alive.
BOOKS: here is a list of books to read on racism and white privilege.
- 1619 (New York Times)
- Pod Save the People (Crooked Media)
- About Race
- Code Switch (NPR)
- Intersectionality Matters! hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw
- Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast
- Nice White Parents (Serial and The New York Times)
- Pod For The Cause (from The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights)
- Seeing White
NETFLIX- 13th, LA 92, Becoming, When They See Us, Teach Us All, Time- The Kalief Browder Story, Who Killed Malcom X, I Am Not Your Negro, Strong Island, Moonlight
HULU- If Beale Street Could Talk, Whose Streets