University of Kansas racial tensions: The next Mizzou?

Students at the University of Kansas, apparently inspired by events that unfolded in Missouri last week, are demanding the resignation of student body leaders.

(Matt Hellman/Missourian via AP, File)
Supporters gather on Nov. 9 after the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign, in Columbia, Mo., over mounting pressure from campus groups regarding his handling of racial tensions at the school. At the University of Kansas students are also calling for changes amid racial tensions

Students at the the University of Kansas are attempting to recreate a successful and highly publicized campaign last week at University of Missouri that led to the resignation of school president Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin after months of protests from students, faculty, and the local community over the administration’s handling of racist acts on campus.

The Kansas Student Senate is calling for the resignation of its top three leaders over racial tensions.

Like in Missouri, a recent Kansas graduate – in this case white – is hoping to attract attention to campus racial issues with a hunger strike.

“I’m kind of at an advantage because of my white privilege, so my suffering is self-inflicted,” said John Cowan, who graduated in 2014, to the Associated Press. “Others don’t have that choice, it’s inflicted upon them.”

The senate's student executive committee is calling for the resignation of student body president Jessie Pringle, vice president Zach George and chief of staff Adam Moon by Wednesday. If they don’t, the committee wants the senate to impeach them, reported the Lawrence Journal-World.

After the fallout at the University of Missouri, about 160 miles east of the university in Lawrence, Ks., University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little moderated on Wednesday a forum where student group Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk presented diversity demands, according to the Associated Press.

These included the hiring of a director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs by Dec. 15, mandatory diversity training for students and faculty and better diversity in hiring.

But according to executive committee members, student body leaders did not "stand in solidarity with their black peers and proclaim that Black Lives Matter," reported the Journal-World.

"Black students do not feel that the student senate provides adequate representation, funding and support for their needs," the committee said, according to the Journal-World.

An important factor in the success of the Missouri campaign, and in other social justice campaigns by students at US universities, was a boycott of all football-related activities by about 32 black players on the school’s NCAA Division I football team, which brings in tens of millions of dollars in revenue to the university.

So far, it doesn’t appear that any groups of athletes are participating in the student body leaders' resignation campaign in Kansas.

But the Missouri protests have had an impact on other colleges and universities, The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Students feel more empowered now to push for change at the very top. And for many college and university leaders, the need to listen, speak, and act skillfully in response to concerns about racial and cultural diversity is now top of mind in a way it wasn’t just a week ago.

Whether campuses roiled with racial tension will see lasting change may hinge not so much on whether leaders are replaced, but whether entrenched elements of the culture really give way to “efforts to bring issues of race, power, and privilege more to the center of how we think about the purpose of higher education,” says Jay Dee, director of the higher education doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

“Sometimes the changes are transformative, but the danger is that the wounds of the past get bandaged over temporarily and the institution returns to the status quo,” Mr. Dee says.

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