I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My parents knew education was one of the keys to a fulfilling life. As a first-generation college student, I recall my mother saying, “I can promise you one year of college and we will figure out the rest.” I used earned scholarships to fill in some of the financial gaps, while I completed my undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati.
My husband’s work brought us to the Manhattan community, and I have now been employed at Kansas State University for 30-plus years. I have advised student groups, served as a mentor and continue in leadership. I feel the university does a great job pairing students with faculty and staff who will encourage them and help them persist. I have typically been matched with students of color, who often remind me of my younger self when I was navigating a large university away from home. I was a little bit radical and engaged in social justice issues. Some things have changed over those years — the cost of tuition has increased tremendously — while others have not — the wage gap continues to exist as a barrier across ethnic groups, and social justice dilemmas remain at the forefront. Still, it is very rewarding to see the students graduate.
The university has made some strides in diversity during my tenure. While I believe the university leadership has missed opportunities to retain faculty and staff of color. It has established some new, prominent positions, and is creating pathways for tenure, promotion and retention of minority faculty and staff. Having a diverse group of faculty in the classroom and at the decision-making table is important. K-State aspires to achieve cultural competency and diversity and inclusion outcomes. This continues to be an important effort for the nation’s first operational land-grant university. Several employees have taken Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) training. Still, professional development continues to be imperative for all if we are to collectively continue a legacy of access, opportunity and success.
I attended monthly board meetings, as a stakeholder, for a local organization and was asked not to sit at the decision-making table, while others were. When this happened I was the only person of color present, it was hard to feel welcome. Was the goal to only look inclusive, but not to be inclusive?
When I was on the local USD 383 Board of Education, I tried to raise cultural awareness by encouraging field trips to the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site, in Topeka. It’s a place that reminds us of the barriers that continue to stand in the way of all people getting an equal education. This experience could serve as a framework to the USD 383 mission “educate every student to be a contributing citizen in a changing, diverse society.”
Both the university and the local school district have some great employees trying hard to make a difference, but leaders find themselves in tough situations. It can take time to implement change, or new policies, centered on social institutions. But being intentional about embracing diversity and change is an excellent start, as retention can be a good outcome.
I have recently participated in peaceful protests in Manhattan, standing in solidarity for justice. I have three young adults, who were raised in this community. It is important to continue to provide a path of peace and equality for them and others. I have continued to have dialogues with peers, young people, and student-athletes. If you ask our students to speak in regard to race relations on campus, I think they might say the “jury is still out.” We all need outlets for continued free expression. It helps the healing process ... for a time. I am reminded of the lyrics of a 1971 Marvin Gaye song that still speaks to us today! “Mother…There’s far too many of you crying, Brother … there’s far too many of you dying ... For only love can conquer hate … don’t punish me with brutality … Talk to me, so you can see …” What’s Going On?
It hurts when we think of the known and unknown names of the people of color who have died senseless deaths, who have left mothers and loved ones crying. How and when do we get people to see the value in all life?
Our K-State students of color took another bold step to share courageous truths at #BlackatKState. They have since maintained their composure and posture. But people get weary. They desire to see measurable changes. I can appreciate a student-athlete who plays their game well, meets and greets fans, and helps win team trophies. Once that athlete leaves their sports area, removes their jersey, their identity abruptly changes.
Whether you are a community leader or a local citizen, you can help make the landscape look different. Leaders can be inclusive and embrace diversity. They can hire outside their friend group, bringing more diverse people to the table and create growth in the workplace. Intentional decision-making is key, whether it is a leader expanding the applicant pool in a job search, or stepping outside of your comfort zone to embrace someone different.
These are tough times, even without a pandemic. When I look at the world today and measure how far we have come, with acceptance of differences, being intentional and inclusive, and trusting people that don’t look like us, many have made strides, while others still have a way to go. I heard a friend say, “You can’t do the external work, until you do the internal work.”
My faith keeps me strong as do the dear friends I have come to appreciate and care for in this community. It took almost a lifetime to build these valued relationships with people who often don’t look like me. I need them to be resilient allies to stand together with us, for as long as it takes to see positive change for all.
Pat Hudgins, a former USD 383 Board of Education member, currently serves on the 383 Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the RCPD Community Advisory Board and the Board of Directors for the State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services. She is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Associate Director of the K-State Career Center, and a member of the K-State Faculty Senate.