KU administration announces first steps toward addressing racism, inequality on campus

Kansas University has assembled an advisory team and plans to deliver an action plan by mid-January to address racial disparity and inclusion on campus, Provost Jeff Vitter said Tuesday in a message to campus.

Vitter said the plan will target student retention and graduation rates; mandatory education on “inclusion and belonging” for all students and employees; plus a plan for accountability.

Work continues on the planned universitywide climate survey, and a consultant was on campus Monday meeting with the Climate Study Task Force, Vitter added. And Nate Thomas, Vice Provost for Diversity and Equity, has a framework to address diversity and equity goals.

“The institution we are today is not the institution we strive to be, or need to be,” Vitter said.

This is not all the administration plans to do, said Jill Hummels, communications manager for the provost’s office.

“We’re still talking internally. There’s more work taking place behind the scenes to address these issues,” she said. “There will be more to come.”

The pledge for action responds to a universitywide town hall forum that drew 1,000 people to the Kansas Union last week. KU’s stated goal for the forum was to discuss race, respect, responsibility and free speech.

In addition to dozens of students and employees sharing stories of discrimination or ideas to combat it, a group of mostly black students calling themselves Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk temporarily took over the forum and announced a list of demands for KU with a deadline of Jan. 19.

Since the forum, Vitter said, groups across campus have expressed “solidarity” with Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk and other speakers demanding change.

Vitter added that, as Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a response to the forum, change will not happen from the top down but from participation throughout the university.

Thomas, who spoke Tuesday to the University Senate Executive Committee, also emphasized the importance of everyone doing their part.

“We can’t do this alone,” Thomas said. “Diversity has to be about everybody.”

Thomas said recruitment and retention of underrepresented students is perhaps the most critical issue, and while his office has ongoing initiatives it would like to expand, those cost money.

Thomas urged individual faculty members to actively mentor students and to suggest KU to promising high schoolers they meet. He said everyone must speak up to racist and sexist peers instead of continuing to be “bystanders to discrimination” within their own units.

Vitter, who is leaving KU at the end of this semester to become chancellor at the University of Mississippi, also addressed the change in leadership.

“As my time at KU comes to a close, I want to make sure everyone knows these issues will continue to command our attention,” he said. “Senior Vice Provost Sara Rosen, the incoming interim provost, is, and will continue to be, involved at every turn.”