Wichita Kansas State University is stepping up police patrols and taking other safety measures following a spat of racial incidents that culminated this week when a black man’s car parked near campus was scrawled with racist graffiti.
School officials are also reviewing the need for more cameras on its campus in Manhattan, a city about 50 miles west of Topeka, after racial slurs and threatening messages, including “Go Home” and “Date your own kind,” were scrawled in yellow washable paint on the car. The FBI is investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
Other recent incidents include white supremacist posters being found on campus in September and a noose found hanging from a campus tree in May.
“At the moment, minority students generally do not feel safe on campus,” Darrell Reese, president of the Black Student Union at the school, said Friday.
Top university administrators and city leaders met with the union and other students during an emergency meeting Wednesday. Dean of Students Pat Bosco held a national Facebook Live discussion the following day to address concerns. Bosco noted the school was getting ready to announce a major gift to create a Multicultural Student Center on campus, saying the center would be a welcoming and safe place for students and “a space that drives success.”
The university also plans to hire two new leadership positions tasked diversity and multicultural student life issue.
“There is little question racial tension is increasing across our nation and on college campuses. We’ve seen this mirrored at Kansas State University,” school spokesman Jeff Morris said Friday. “The current climate has caused students, parents and families to question their safety.”
The university said the number of discrimination reports has increased, but credits at least part of the uptick to its efforts to increase bystander reporting to help identify potential discrimination. The school said allegations of discrimination related to ethnicity or race have remained almost constant over the last two years as a percentage of total reports.
Between November 2015 and October 2016, the office of Institutional Equity processed 30 cases alleging such discrimination, or 17.1 percent of all reports. That compares to 40 such discrimination cases, or 16.8 percent, filed between November 2016 and today.
“Those who wish us harm should not be allowed to create a culture of fear and divisiveness,” Kansas State President Richard Meyers wrote in an online statement posted after the graffiti vandalism. “As I hear from student leadership following this incident, your message is clear: We need to ensure the safety of those affected by this attack.”
Police said the car wasn’t damaged because the paint was washable, but the investigation is ongoing. The car’s 21-year-old owner, who isn’t a student at the university, declined comment and asked for privacy when contacted this week by The Associated Press.
Kansas State had the most diverse student population in its history this fall, according to the university. The school has 3,550 multicultural students enrolled, making up nearly 16 percent of its student population. That number doesn’t include international student enrollment, which numbers 1,820.
So far, the situation has been tepid compared to the protests that erupted at the University of Missouri in Columbia in late 2015. Reese, the Black Student Union president at Kansas State, said students in Missouri there felt they had “no choice.” Protesters at the time said administrators weren’t listening, and a series of racial incidents led to protests, a hunger strike and a football team boycott, resulting in the resignations of the university’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, and then-University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe.
“I don’t think the climate will ever get as bad as Mizzou, given we are making strides in inclusion,” Reese said.