Kansas Regents chair encourages respect, open processes as campuses deal with diversity issues

Wichita — The issue of racial tension on university campuses came up during Wednesday’s Kansas Board of Regents meeting, though no action items were on the board’s agenda.

Kansas University Student Body President Jessie Pringle, chairwoman of the Regents Students’ Advisory Committee, said during her report to the board that there are students who are “hurting.”

On behalf of all student body presidents on the committee, she urged the Regents and university representatives in the audience to take the issue of creating inclusive campuses seriously.

“This conversation is occurring across the nation, and we’re not in a vacuum,” Pringle said. “This discussion is important and needs to be had. I think the state of Kansas has a real opportunity right now.”

Board chairman Shane Bangerter said he supports an environment that allows “people of all faiths, all colors, all nationalities to feel safe and welcome.”

“Those are all issues that we take very seriously and consider tantamount,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting took place at Wichita State University, and Student Body President Joseph Shepard had planned to lead a protest at the meeting over inclusion issues, but called it off after a lengthy meeting with Wichita State President John Bardo, according to The Wichita Eagle.

Discussions have been happening or planned on several campuses and have been especially contentious at KU. A town hall forum on race last week drew 1,000 people, and in the following days there was an attempt by some student senators to oust the body’s top three officers — including Pringle — for what critics called their lack of response to diversity complaints.

Bangerter urged Pringle and other student body presidents to use this difficult time as an opportunity to be “statesmen.”

“Rise above the rhetoric,” he said. “Now is the hour for you all to stand up and to take a position that stands for what is right, what is open, what is proper. We have processes in place for change, and they’re good processes, and we need to exercise those privileges and those rights with due respect for each other, for differing opinions.”

When asked whether he thought specific race-related business would come before the board, Bangerter said changes would most likely happen at the campus level.

“We set broad policy,” he said. “We don’t dictate to the universities the details … that allow for all the various entities to have a say at their particular universities.”

He said the board does encourage universities to follow open processes that maintain people’s right to free speech and also ensure all sides feel comfortable.