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.”