Chants of "Beware K-State! Students aren't safe!" rang throughout campus as K-State students and community members marched Saturday to President Richard Myers' house to protest against racism on campus.
"All of us came together as a community, as a strong community," said Tori Swafford, one of the march organizers who is also a recent K-State graduate. "As you can look around yourself, there's people of color, there's white allies. Everything in between, and we came here today for one reason: to end racism on K-State's campus. And I believe that it is high time that that happens."
About 100 people attended the protest Saturday, marching from Triangle Park to the president's house on campus.
However, Myers wasn't in town. The president was at his other home in Virginia.
"We gonna stay on you until you get something done. Period. End of discussion," Swafford said.
K-State senior Miranda Urban, who also helped with the protest, said students will not tolerate empty messages anymore.
"We do not need more publicity stunts by KSUnite," Urban said at the event. "We do not need empty statements to win over the crowd. We need accountability. We need students to know that blatant, outspoken discrimination is not tolerated and can be reprimanded."
Students presented a list of six demands to the university, sent to The Mercury by Swanson:
- Revision of the university’s attendance policy so “underrepresented students have the option to partake in distance learning at the same price as traditional classes if they feel their their mental and/or physical well-being is at risk.” The list said that a recent Twitter poll distributed by Swanson found 79% of K-State students of color do not feel safe returning to campus in the fall because of the “current social climate.”
- The introduction of a policy with disciplinary actions regarding “a student’s social media that invokes fear amongst a large group of students and creates a hostile learning environment.”
- Requirement for every student to take American Ethics 300, which is an intercultural course that prepares students to understand race, systemic racism and oppression, according to the list of demands.
- The distribution of 0.5% of the university’s athletic department revenue to local Black businesses and the local Black Lives Matter chapter.
- The allocation of resources to “resolve the longstanding community problem between the campus police department and the Riley County Police Department’s racist treatment of Black students and citizens.”
- The inclusion of “land acknowledgements to honor indigenous peoples who lived on the land for centuries, to highlight the long-standing colonial history that has brought individuals to this land, and to understand one’s place within that” at the beginning of K-State events (commencement, rallies, etc.).
Swanson read these lists of demands at the protest. She said prior to the protest that she was ready to let the whole community know about instances of racism that occur on campus.
"There’s so many things that go on on campus that no one really knows about, only the students, not the community,” she told The Mercury on Friday.
Laurian Cuffy, who lives in Atlanta, was among the attendees of the protest. He was the second Black student body president at K-State from 1988-89.
"You cannot give up the fight," Cuffy said. "You've got to stand there and you've got to have the heart to say, 'Hey, I am fighting for people's hearts and minds. I am fighting because I know maybe I can change one heart or one mind. Maybe one racist is no longer a racist because of how I connected.'"
Cuffy, who is retired after serving in the U.S. Army for 34 years, said he felt compelled to come to the protest because of his connections to the university and Kansas.
"When something is triggering, you can do one or two things," he said. "You can give into it, or you can spring into action. And I decided to come to Manhattan to stand in solidarity with these students and really capture this moment in my mind. I tell you I walk away feeling a great deal of hope in seeing those students get up there and fight for justice."
Cuffy said he hopes Myers hears the calls for action from the students and community.
"I thought the students ought to be congratulated by faculty and the president of the university for what they did," Cuffy said. "And I would say to President Myers, you know, please reach out to these students."
K-State senior Kirsten Novotny read a letter from George Floyd's niece, Nire Carter, at the protest. Carter sent the letter to the organizers, Swanson said.
"Being Black in America is one of the hardest things I have ever encountered," the letter said. "Our children are born a suspect, and we worry every day that they come back in one piece. Hell, even alive. Our babies aren't able to walk down the street without being racially profiled. They may fit that description. Our babies are unable to walk into a store or even take out the trash in their own drive-way."
Novotny said she will never forget reading the letter at the protest.
"Reading it out loud to the crowd was a very surreal moment," she said.
Swanson said she cried when they received the letter.
"I was very, very shocked," Swanson said.
Dustin Delehanty, a former teacher in the Junction City and Manhattan school districts, also spoke at the protest.
"We are here because we are tired of the false, empty, heartless promises made to our Black sisters and brothers," he said. "We are tired of the hollow assurances of their safety on campus and within our communities. We are tired of the hypocrisy. We are tired, but the fight must go on."
Manhattan resident Tammy Karin attended the protest. She said she hopes Myers sees the community "is not done" when it comes to combatting racism.
"Our students need to feel heard," she said. "... The point of this is to challenge the current laws. We understand that the current laws don't allow for what needs to happen here, which is stopping the racist remarks."
This protest occurred after Jaden McNeil, K-State student and founder of the conservative group America First Students, tweeted, “Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!” He tweeted this a month after Floyd died after Minneapolis police knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, preventing him from breathing.
K-State football players said they would not participate in games and events if the university did not take any action. The university outlined a policy to combat racism, and since then, K-State football players have returned to practices.
Swanson said this protest and march was aimed to combat all acts of racism on campus, not just one instance.
"This has been a long lasting problem, and there needs to be a solution for it, most definitely,” she said.