University of Kansas students respond to letter

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas plans to begin sharing information next week on how the school will address racism and discrimination, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said Friday.

“To all of you who are hurting: I see you. I hear you. You matter. And together, we will do better,” she wrote in a message posted on the university’s website.

The message comes in the wake of this week’s unrest at the University of Missouri and after a forum that Gray-Little moderated on Wednesday, where a group calling itself Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk presented its demands.

The forum was attended by nearly one thousand students. An overflow room was opened. For students that were not able to attend, they’re feeling the ripple effects on campus.

Johnny Cowan started his hunger strike Friday afternoon in “solidarity” with the students of Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk and other groups on campus.

“If (the university isn’t) going to come up with solutions, we are going to come up with our own solutions,” he said.

Cowan was chalking about his cause outside Wescoe Hall in an area students refer to as “Wescoe Beach.” The building houses the humanities department.

Cowan was not at the forum but his friend Ashley Martin was and she thinks the university should have said more in the letter Friday.

“I feel like it was just a response and more action needs to be taken,” she said.

The demands included the hiring of a director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs by Dec. 15, mandatory “inclusion and belonging” training for students and faculty, increased aid to veterans, increased diversity in hiring, creation of a team of counselors to address mental issues among “students of color” and creation of an independent “Multicultural Student Government.”

But it was unclear how the students expected the university to address a demand related to a closed, decades-old police investigation into the 1970 death of a 19-year-old black Lawrence resident in what authorities at the time described as a gun battle with police off campus. The incident started days of unrest in the city.

A time in the city that Clarence Lang said spurred the creation of the African and African-American Studies department.

Lang, who chairs the department, said he was proud of his colleagues who were at the forum Wednesday.

“As is often the case in these moments, it takes protests to move things forward,” he said. “Every generation has to fight.”

Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk wants a ban on concealed weapons on campus, too. Kansas law says that starting in July 2017, state universities won’t be able to bar qualified students from carrying concealed weapons on campus or into buildings, unless those buildings have security measures, such as metal detectors. The Kansas Board of Regents expects to vote in December on a weapons policy.

The demand for a concealed carry ban prompted the executive board of the Kansas Young Republicans to issue a statement Thursday supporting concealed carry on campuses.

Gray-Little wrote that one thing she took from Wednesday’s two-hour forum is that students, faculty and staff want action — and they want it now.

“I’ve continued to have conversations with students and colleagues since the town hall, and early next week we will begin sharing with you information on how we will move forward on this issue together,” she said. “KU will be a leader in how universities address this challenge.”

Also Friday, the University Senate sent out an email to university faculty, staff and students saying its executive committee will meet Tuesday to hear from some people who can help the Senate become the catalyst for action. The email was signed by the university, faculty, staff and student Senate presidents.

“A call for action has been made to right the wrongs we have ignored for too long,” it said. “We must act now to make our campus a place where students can feel safe to succeed, and all can live and work in an atmosphere of support and inclusion.”

KSNT News reporter Caroline Sweeney contributed to this report. 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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