Difference of Opinion

Junior Michael Duncan of Topeka holds a sign during the protest against Turning Point USA in April 2019.  A new group — America First Students, formed from the remains of the since-disbanded Turning Point USA chapter at K-State — has been accused of being a spearhead for a resurgence in white nationalism in the U.S.

K-State is reviewing its options in response to what it called “offensive” tweets from a student, university president Richard Myers said Friday morning.

Myers said the university is reviewing its options after Jaden McNeil, sophomore K-State student and founder of the conservative group America First Students, on Thursday tweeted “Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!” Thursday marked a month since Floyd died after Minneapolis police knelt on his neck, preventing him from breathing. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice.

“The insensitive comments posted by one K-State student hurts our entire community,” Myers said. “These divisive statements do not represent for the values of our university. We condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms. We are launching an immediate review of the university’s options. Black Lives Matter at Kansas State University and we will continue to fight for social justice.”

Myers’ statement the strongest-yet statement from university officials, who have been reluctant to delve into what they’ve called a freedom of speech issue.

Student calls for the university to expel or discipline McNeil grew in early June during his earlier comments on the Black Lives Matter issue but exploded after McNeil’s tweet Thursday.

Students released a video last week under the #BlackAtKState hashtag and asked for America First Students to be removed from campus.

A petition on Change.org that has circulated on Twitter for three weeks calling for a ban on America First Students from campus. Both claim McNeil and America First Students “spread hateful rhetoric.”

McNeil, who was the subject of an investigative report from an advocacy organization accusing him of being a white nationalist in February, did not respond to the Mercury’s request for comment Friday.

McNeil previously stated he is not a white nationalist and “(America First Students) is a mainstream, Christian, conservative organization that supports President Donald Trump.”

Vice president for student life and dean of students Thomas Lane tweeted Friday morning K-State condemns the bigotry and “racism” and said it is not tolerated.

“I’m aware of the Twitter posting by a K-State student,” Lane said in his tweet. “The lack of basic decency and care for how this post would impact others, especially our Black students, faculty, & staff already emotionally hurting from recent incidents of anti-Black violence is shameful and appalling.”

Following McNeil’s tweet, three K-State football players said they won’t play until McNeil is reprimanded and removed from the university.

The players were wide receiver Joshua Youngblood and defensive back Walter Neil Jr., though Youngblood has since removed his tweet. Athletics director Gene Taylor said in a tweet that the comments from McNeil “are disgusting and totally inappropriate and not reflective of who we are as a University or our Athletic Department.”

If K-State were to take any action against McNeil, it would be its first foray into disciplining a student for speech.

While the university’s code of conduct prohibits conduct that interferes with others’ ability to receive an education, telephone and internet harassment, interfering with the free speech rights of others, and violating local, state and federal laws, it does not explicitly ban speech like McNeil’s, which has been called hateful but not been directed toward any individual student.

K-State has previously won nods from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which gave K-State its “green light” rating for free speech.