Statement in Support of the Black Student Union

Statement in Support of the Black Student Union, and Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk

Department of African and African-American Studies Faculty

The Department of African and African-American Studies (AAAS) emerged directly from student protest at the University of Kansas in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Aside from our teaching, research, and professional service duties, we are a community of scholars with a special responsibility to support students in the pursuit of equity, inclusion, access, and racial and social justice at this university and beyond. As a result, we stand in full solidarity with the goals of members of the KU Black Student Union and affiliates of Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk, who staged a demonstration at the Chancellor’s November 11, 2015 Town Hall Forum on Race, Respect and Responsibility. We join these students in urging the Office of the Chancellor to respond concretely to their demands in a timely and meaningful manner. 

KU students of color testified to a disturbing pattern of anti-black intimidation and violence in residence halls, classrooms, and other campus spaces – as well as spaces in the larger Lawrence community. Many who spoke voiced the opinion that KU, and its surrounding environs, is not welcoming to students of color; nor do they feel that KU is a safe place for them. Equally distressing, students expressed the view that from residence hall managers to the offices of the Provost and the Chancellor, the University has been far more interested in avoiding public exposure of racist incidents, suppressing student discontent, and “protecting” KU’s reputation than in substantively addressing grievances by students of color. This ineffective University response adds insult to the injuries of racial microaggressions and hate speech, and it only feeds KU’s inability to recruit and retain students of color, particularly black students. These forms of violence also buttress a hostile campus environment for faculty and staff of color. 

The problems faced by students of color at KU have multiple sources, including a lack of attention to recruiting a diverse undergraduate and graduate student body, particularly from among historically underrepresented domestic minorities; an unwillingness to “put teeth” to the University’s rhetorical support for a diverse faculty across departments and colleges; the absence of systematic, proactive education and training in racial/ethnic sensitivity and cultural competency for all students, staff, and faculty; and a tendency to leave “diversity work” largely to the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and non-traditional, interdisciplinary departments like AAAS. 

Our solutions will have to be as equally complex, and they must involve many more stakeholders. Further, these issues affect the welfare of all students, not simply that of students of color. A diverse learning and social environment is beneficial to everyone. In order for all KU students to achieve their potential as global citizens and contribute to KU’s mission of preparing them “for lives of learning and for the challenges educated citizens will encounter in an increasingly complex and diverse global community,” regardless of identity/ies, they must have a safe and inclusive environment. As AAAS faculty, we are willing to continue rolling up our sleeves to do the work of making KU a more inclusive intellectual and cultural community that is truly representative of the domestic constituencies and global interests that the University claims to serve in its “Bold Aspirations” strategic plan. But we call on our senior-level administrators to match our ongoing efforts with their own labor, seriousness, and resources. Quite literally, our students’ lives depend on it.