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At third KSUnite, student speakers urge students to carry diversity beyond event

Do better. Work harder. Ask questions.

As student representatives spoke at the third KSUnite event, they challenged their K-State community members to look beyond the rally and include diversity and inclusion in their everyday campus lives.

About 2,000 K-State students, faculty and community members assembled in several rooms at the K-State Student Union on Wednesday afternoon to “reaffirm and celebrate the university’s commitment to valuing and respecting diversity.”

“We started this KSUnite (event) two years ago in a time of unrest around the nation, and the world challenged us right here at K-State,” Myers said. “We chose not to let that unrest take over our principles and values and define us.”

The first KSUnite came during the fall 2017 semester when several incidents rocked the campus community, the most notable of which was a man who claimed his car had been vandalized with racial slurs. The man later admitted that he had painted the car with those slurs himself.

President Richard Myers said that the university isn’t perfect, but officials have worked on improving K-State’s community and its diversity every day. He pointed to two new diversity administrators — chief diversity and inclusion officer Bryan Samuel and associate vice president for student life for diversity and multicultural student affairs Adrian Rodriguez — as well as construction on the Morris Multicultural Student Center as examples of the university’s diversity work.

Student speakers included student body president Jansen Penny, Polly Nations, Francisco Cardoza, Gloria Mutiri, Mohammad Khan and Lindsay Gutierrez, who spoke about their backgrounds and experiences as part of K-State’s multicultural community.

Cardoza, a senior and president of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization, said he was a freshman during the first KSUnite, and he was inspired by former Black Student Union president Darrell Reese Jr.’s call to action. Cardoza said K-State still has a lot of work left to live up to the original mission of the first KSUnite.

“For what KSUnite is trying to stand for, it must be more than just a box K-State checks each year, and that’s how I felt leading up to today,” Cardoza said. “I know a lot of other students have these feelings.

“The students who should be here are not. KSUnite is only one day of the year,” he continued. “I decided to go through with speaking, though, to represent my community. If I don’t speak how I feel, who will?”

Mutiri, a junior member of the K-State volleyball team, related her experiences growing up as the daughter of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She said that other kids would make fun of her and her background, but she’s been thankful to be among people who appreciate her differences at K-State.

“K-State prides itself in being a family atmosphere, but for this place to become home, we have a lot of work to do,” Mutiri said. “Inclusion and respect must be a standard, and we need to help each other break barriers. Home is a place where we can sit down and have really tough and really awkward conversations with each other — where everyone can have a seat at the table and everyone can talk without feeling judged.”

Keynote speaker and former 8th Judicial District Judge Maritza Segarra said that many of the issues discussed at KSUnite are the same ones she saw when she graduated from K-State in 1984. Segarra, now retired, was the first woman to sit on that court and the first Latina to sit on any district court in Kansas.

“Getting together the campus and family at K-State and coming forward, this is such a big step in eroding that kind of discrimination and those types of barriers,” Segarra said. “You guys are doing a phenomenal thing by doing this.”

After the speeches, Samuel said that by instilling a respect for diversity and inclusion on campus, the university naturally carries that respect into the community through its ties to the town.

“I think it says that students and faculty are all interested in learning more and engaging meaningfully with each other, making K-State all it can be,” Samuel said. “We have a rich history on the diversity and inclusion continuum. We were open to all individuals without regard to race, gender or creed in 1863, and we just have to make sure people never forget that. It’s who we are.”

Complaint details 130 child sex abuse charges against Iacobellis

An amended criminal complaint breaks down 130 allegations of child sexual abuse against longtime Bob’s Diner owner Robert Iacobellis.

Iacobellis, 60, of Manhattan, is charged with 125 counts of aggravated indecent liberties, one count of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child, three counts of aggravated criminal sodomy and one count of rape, according to the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors through Riley County District Court.

Each count is a separate alleged incident. The incidents are said to have occurred between 2012 and 2018 with three different victims. Ninety-three of the charges stem from incidents with a then-9- or 10-year-old girl, 25 counts from incidents with a then-15-year-old girl, and 12 counts from incidents with a then-11-year-old girl.

Iacobellis initially was charged with three counts of related charges after officers arrested him in early August. He remains confined in Riley County Jail on a $500,000 bond.

The Riley County Police Department said the case is an ongoing investigation, and those with additional information can call detective Brian Johnson at 785-473-2323.

City commission-elects to assume positions in January

Incumbent Linda Morse, Mark Hatesohl and Aaron Estabrook will be sworn in as Manhattan city commissioners during the Jan. 7 city commission meeting, which is the first commission meeting of 2020.

Mayor Mike Dodson and commissioner Jerred McKee are in office until Hatesohl and Estabrook are sworn in.

City manager Ron Fehr said city officials help prepare the new commissioners with an orientation, which is beginning soon. He said he is looking forward to working with the commissioners.

Morse and Hatesohl earned four-year terms on the city commission while Estabrook gained a two-year term for finishing in third place.

Looking back at the election, Fehr said he thought it was great that so many people became involved and ran for the three seats on the city commission.

“I think that just showed we had a lot of strong interest by all the candidates,” he said.

Morse, Hatesohl and Estabrook defeated five other candidates: Sarah Siders, Kaleb James, Maureen Sheahan, Mary Renee Shirk and Vincent Tracey.

During the election, people had the opportunity to use new election equipment purchased by Riley County earlier this year.

Riley County clerk Rich Vargo told The Mercury on Wednesday that the machines ran smoothly throughout election day.

“Machines worked great, and people really liked them,” Vargo said.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

From the left, Ashten Anderson, Brandi Coleman and Kesha Beaufosse treat a pulmonary embolism on dummy Thursday during a simulation in their class, Management of Patient Care, at Manhattan Area Technical College.

USD 383 could join national lawsuits against e-cig manufacturer Juul

The Manhattan-Ogden school district could join the first wave of nationwide lawsuits against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, but the school board wants some more information first.

Assistant superintendent Eric Reid said Wednesday at the board meeting that Eric Barton, a lawyer with Kansas City law firm Wagstaff and Carmel, LLP, and a Manhattan High School alumnus, reached out to the district to start a conversation about having the firm file a lawsuit against Juul on behalf of the school district.

Curt Herrman, board president, said he was hesitant to use taxpayer dollars to pay for a lawsuit that might not be successful. Barton said the firm is working these cases against Juul on contingency, meaning no taxpayer dollars are necessary. The districts only pay if the firm wins its cases, and any fees would come out of a judgement against Juul.

Barton said his firm has litigated several other public health lawsuits, including previous lawsuits against tobacco companies and opioid manufacturers, but the new e-cigarette, or vaping, epidemic has caught the eye of school districts around the nation. Those districts see lawsuits as a way to take a stand and send a message to Juul and other e-cigarette manufacturers, Barton said.

“The litigation that I’m talking about by no means is going to solve the vaping and Juul problem,” Barton said. “It is a serious public and youth health issue right now. But what this litigation does aim to do is both provide a source of pressure on Juul specifically — which has really been the architect of the epidemic that we’re seeing in the public schools right now — but also provide a vehicle for school districts to put in place plans, education, counseling and programs to try to get their students through this addiction crisis.”

While regular cigarette use among teenagers has plummeted over the past 40 years, Barton said e-cigarette use has skyrocketed, particularly after Juul was founded in 2015. The Manhattan-Ogden school district has seen similar statistics, with reported cigarette use down over the past 20 years, according to the annual Kansas Communities That Care survey, an anonymous survey administered to the district’s 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders each year.

In comparison, frequent e-cigarette use up to 18% among the district’s high school students last year, compared to 5.4% in 2017, the first year the survey kept track of e-cigarette use.

Barton said much of the recent surge in teen e-cigarette use has been because of Juul’s aggressive marketing toward youth, using many of the same marketing techniques tobacco companies used before the federal government stepped in. He said the company also uses a new form of nicotine salts in its products that are easier to inhale but are also more efficient and addictive, leading to higher nicotine levels and easier addiction.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn against e-cigarette use for anyone, the federal agency says use among teenagers is especially problematic, as teenagers are more prone to neurological changes that could lead to lifelong addictions to nicotine and other drugs. The U.S. surgeon general also has found that nicotine consumption as a teenager can damage parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.

That’s in addition to the other effects of cigarette and e-cigarette use, such as lung problems, cancer, cardiovascular disease and decreased life expectancy, Barton said. Other potential long-term health issues with vaping are still unknown, given their recent prominence, and the lack of data has meant that today’s teenage users are effectively “guinea pigs” for companies like Juul to test their products on, Barton said.

The relatively quick surge in the vaping epidemic left medical professionals stunned, let alone school officials, Barton said. As e-cigarette use has climbed in recent years, school districts have scrambled to educate students and parents about the negative effects of vaping. Barton said e-cigarette use has become a major distraction and drain of resources on schools, teachers and administrators, who now have to keep watch for the tiny devices that often resemble USB drives and are easily hidden in pencil bags and backpacks.

Administrators also have seen suspensions skyrocket as more kids are caught vaping, Barton said, although there’s also been a shift in thinking of vaping as a problem to be punished to an epidemic to be solved.

“I think more and more schools are starting to see it’s an addiction crisis and health issue, and now we need to figure out how to deal with that and provide resources to kids to actually try to help that addiction,” Barton said.

Those extra efforts have not been cheap, Barton said, and some districts have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in re-appropriated funds and staff time to monitor for vaping in their schools. But in filing lawsuits against Juul, the districts could not only hold the company responsible for the epidemic but recoup some of those costs.

Barton’s firm has already partnered with several other Kansas school districts to start lawsuits against Juul —including the De Soto, Goddard, Smoky Valley, Olathe, Shawnee Mission, and Blue Valley districts — but those lawsuits are all stand-alone suits, as any initial lawsuit from the Manhattan-Ogden school district would be.

However, those suits could turn into class-action lawsuits if the courts were to agree to classify the collective districts as a class, Barton said.

Although it’s students who have suffered the health effects of the vaping epidemic, Barton said the school districts have standing to sue Juul using the public nuisance legal theory. Under that theory, which courts have accepted in previous lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, any manufacturer who uses deceptive practices to promote addictive products that create negative impacts in communities can be found to bear the responsibility of those negative effects.

In a potential lawsuit, district administrators might have to testify and use staff time to compile statistics and other pertinent data, but Reid said the district already collects most of that data anyway.

The board instructed district staff to collect more information on a potential lawsuit and return to the board with an agenda item on whether or not to proceed with the lawsuit.

MHS to implement secondary wolf mascot

Two years after a school board vote on a secondary mascot, Manhattan High School students will start to see a student in a wolf costume at sporting events.

Student Council president Hannah Higgins said the council met with leaders from the cheerleading team and Tribe, the school spirit club, several times over the past month and decided it was time to implement the secondary mascot, which school officials have referred to as the on-field or courtside image.

“The student leaders of Manhattan High School’s StuCo, Tribe, and cheer feel it is time to implement the courtside rally image of the wolf,” Higgins told the board Wednesday.

Higgins said the mascot will be implemented in January and will be a part of the cheerleading team, per Kansas State High School Activities Association rules.

“We will introduce the wolf to the cheerleading team and their routines for this upcoming winter season this coming January,” she said. “We are working on selecting a costume and additional cheer members. As a reminder, we remain Manhattan High School Indians.”

Board member Dave Colburn clarified that the board had not necessarily directed students to implement a mascot in 2017, but voted to accept the then-Student Council’s recommendation that any secondary mascot be a wolf.

That came after a student body vote saw a plurality, but not a majority, of students vote for a “no mascot” option. However, since more students voted to have a wolf or bison mascot, the student council recommended that the top vote-getter of the two, the wolf, be the school’s secondary mascot.