MANHATTAN, Kan. — Hundreds of Kansas State University students, faculty and staff, along with Manhattan residents, were urged to stand together to oppose discrimination during a rally designed to respond to racial tension on the campus.
The university made the rare decision to cancel all classes from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday so participants could walk together and attend a KSUnite rally, where several speakers exhorted them to commit to making everyone feel welcome on campus. Student body president Jack Ayres said it was the first time since the 1960s the school cancelled classes for any reason other than weather.
The rally was in response to a string of events, starting last year when two women sent a SnapChat wearing apparent blackface and captioned the photo with a racial epithet. In May, a noose was found hanging from a campus tree. This fall, racist flyers were found on campus, and anti-gay vandalism was discovered outside the student union.
Darrell Reese Jr., president of the Kansas State Black Student Union, said the incidents have affected minority students.
“We are hurt, we are discouraged, we are in pain,” Reese said. “We know that we are living in trying times both at Kansas State and in our nation. These incidents cause us to think ‘Are we safe, who can I trust, do people really care?'”
University President Richard Myers urged the crowd to define what they want the school to become and then take steps to make that vision a reality.
“We are here today to reflect on situations that disorient and challenge us, and also to think what we want to do about it,” Myers said. “But one thing’s for sure, we are not going to let other define how we — faculty, staff, student, alums, friends, our K-State community — how we define us and our values. That’s up to all of us.”
Myers said racism and divisiveness are spreading across the country and Kansas State has an opportunity to provide leadership for facing those challenges. He said everyone should decide what they want the university and community to look like in the future and what they are willing to do to make it happen.
“Let’s take this walk we’ve started today together to make Kansas State the place you want it to be,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
Reese set out four goals that said he hoped the university would unite around — creating a Multi-Cultural Center, requiring a cultural competency course for everyone, offering more need-based scholarships and improving campus safety.
And he urged everyone who is hurting not to lose faith and to make a personal effort to protect and care for each other.
“We know that it’s time for a change, it’s time for actions and I know we will take the necessary steps to do so,” he said. “So K-State family, it’s time to get to work.”