Task force releases recommendations for improving diversity, inclusion at KU

photo by: Sara Shepherd

A group of students identifying itself as Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk takes the stage and reads a list of diversity and inclusion related demands for Kansas University during KU's town hall forum on race Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union, as KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, far right, who was moderating the forum, looks on. Sign language interpreter Kim Bates, left, translated throughout the event.

A work group tasked with suggesting ways to improve diversity and inclusion at Kansas University has released its report, including more than 30 suggestions for change at KU.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group report takes aim at the status quo at KU, including the Student Senate, the University Honors Program, required curriculum, KU’s international student recruitment efforts and current methods for recruiting and developing students, faculty and staff from underrepresented domestic groups.

Reaching beyond KU, the report criticizes recently enacted or proposed Kansas legislation and national level politics and news events as contributors to a negative climate for diversity on campus.

The bulk of the 29-page report comprises an at-length, scholarly description of recent events at KU that brought the campus to its “current crossroads.”

“We offer this narrative context primarily as a means of preserving historical memory, which we hope will make it more difficult for our peers, colleagues and senior leaders to claim innocence or a lack of knowledge about the state of diversity, equity and inclusion work at KU in the future,” the group wrote. “The pronounced narrative tone of this advisory report is also a means of highlighting the difficulties and possibilities of diversity work in making public higher education a space for both learning and social justice.”

The office of the provost created the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group in late November, on the heels of KU’s town hall forum on race and ensuing campus unrest over the issue.

The group was tasked with examining instances of discrimination and intolerance on KU’s campus and recommending actions to create “an environment where everyone is valued,” according to KU.

The recommendations are now in the hands of KU’s top officials.

“The advisory group has created a document that will inform our continuing work to address the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at KU and ensure that our campus is a welcoming space for all,” Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and interim provost Sara Rosen said Friday in a joint statement shared by KU. “In consultation with other members of the KU administration, we will review the observations and recommendations in the report over the coming weeks so we can issue a thorough response later this summer and continue our efforts on this topic.”

Athletics director Sheahon Zenger and associate professor and African and African-American Studies department chairman Clarence Lang are co-chairmen of the 13-member advisory group, which also has student representatives.


The report includes 16 “student centered” recommendations, eight “faculty centered,” six “staff centered” and four “campus-wide.”

Student-related recommendations include boosting KU Endowment financial aid for low socioeconomic students, amping up recruitment efforts for students of color, facilitating more faculty-staff mentoring for underrepresented and first-generation students and increasing minorities involved with the University Honors Program.

“The very existence of an Honors Program demonstrates the existence of stratification in higher education, calling into question the democratic functions of the public university,” the report says. “… If they are to exist, Honors opportunities should be distributed in a more participatory and forward-looking manner.”

The report also suggests the KU Student Senate be “placed under immediate review” and that student governance be restructured “so that it functions in a more participatory, inclusive, and representative manner.”

The report goes so far as to call Student Senate’s “exclusivity and Greek life-centeredness” a “crisis” that warrants direct attention and intervention by KU leaders “at the highest levels.”

The report recommends supporting creation of the newly proposed Multicultural Student Government.

“We recognize, however, that the creation of the Multicultural Student Government would not adequately resolve existing concerns about the patterns of exclusivity in the Student Senate regarding campaigning, representation, parliamentary procedures and decision-making,” the report says. “The consequence of these patterns is not only that students of color are effectively shut out of a meaningful presence in campus governance, but also that white students are conditioned to hoard privileges and behave in exclusionary ways.”

The report also includes more narrowly focused student-related recommendations, including recognizing Indigenous People’s Day and enhancing efforts to provide more gender-neutral bathrooms across campus.


The report cites actions of a group of primarily black student activists as a turning point on the KU campus, following racial unrest on other campuses including the University of Missouri.

“The tide reached KU in November 2015, when members of Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk (RCIH), an undergraduate-led group of multiracial demonstrators, ‘occupied’ an open forum on ‘race, respect and responsibility’ moderated by Chancellor Gray-Little,” according to the report. “Taking the stage, they unveiled a list of 15 demands.”

However, the report also acknowledges that not all black or other minority students agree with Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk.

“It has been evident, too, that KU student activists of color have not spoken with a single voice,” the report says. “Among black students, differences have surfaced regarding appropriate methods of protest, political tone, rhetorical style, preferences for disruption versus conciliation, and the perceived relationship between the Black Student Union and RCIH-led activities. Although black students have been the nucleus of the recent campus unrest, and perhaps the most visible participants, their protests have helped highlight and elevate additional issues, such as being undocumented or facing ‘Islamophobia.'”

In addition to several other recommendations addressing faculty and staff recruitment, mentoring and support, the report also suggests morphing the task force into the “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Council,” an ongoing body independent from but directly advising the chancellor and provost.

“As a public flagship university, KU has the rare distinction of a black female Chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little, but this alone does not translate into improved opportunities for minoritized populations – no more than the election of the first black President of the United States of America has brought the nation to post-racial bliss,” the report says.