Kennesaw State misses deadline for responding to diversity demands

Officials at Kennesaw State University have missed the deadline for responding to a student ultimatum demanding numerous diversity initiatives.

The list of demands was submitted in November by students affiliated with the regional Atlanta Black Students United group, and school officials have been meeting with the activists since then, but according to CBS46, the University System of Georgia has instructed administrators not to issue an official response at this point beyond the vague acknowledgement initially made in response to the demands.

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“Kennesaw State University President Daniel S. Papp applauds our students for exhibiting leadership on this crucial issue,” the original statement says after noting that students have raised numerous racial grievances. “He looks forward to a dialogue with students and the entire campus community to continue the work of creating a culture of belonging on the Kennesaw State campuses.”

Among the complaints— listed in a November 18 communique purporting to represent “black students at Kennesaw State University”—are the existence of a “racist” store within five miles of campus, the school’s policy of “respectability policing” at student demonstrations, and a recent incident in which an academic advisor was caught on video threatening to call the police on a black student who was waiting for a meeting.

“We demand an official statement signed by President Papp and the dean of each college assuring students of color (especially black students) safety, acceptance, and a welcoming campus environment,” the ultimatum begins. “Considering Kennesaw State University is located less than 5 miles away from ‘Wild Man’s Civil War Surplus’ (a store that openly sells confederate and KKK merchandise) a straightforward statement dedicated to separating the university from the racist culture in which it is surrounded would aid in alleviating the climate of anxiety and fear commonly felt by students of color.”

The students also take issue with limitations on the nature of campus protests, arguing that the school should demonstrate “an increased commitment to social justice on campus” by allowing students to express themselves freely.

The third item on the list calls for “student-led diversity training for all advising departments,” saying that a viral video of adviser Abby Dawson threatening to call the police on a black student “has exposed the need for accountability in ensuring cultural and racial awareness among all advisors.”

The remainder of the ultimatum is similar to those issued by student protesters at many other schools, with demands for things like mandatory diversity training; “strong repercussions” for acts of racial bias; funding for “an anti-racist education center” and “African, African-American, and other Ethnic-based courses,” and an increased proportion of minority faculty.

In addition to instituting diversity training for advisors, the students also want “required cultural awareness, race and ethnicity, and intersectional LGBT diversity training for members of Greek Life and all student organizations on campus,” saying they do not trust faculty advisors to impart those lessons effectively.

“Staff members are not agents of respectability, nor are organization advisory boards breeding grounds for respectability politics; we will no longer accept the tone policing, political bias, and overarching reach of the power of organization advisors,” they declare. “We must be allowed to fully articulate our diversity on our own terms.”

The KSU ultimatum is part of a national movement demanding such initiatives from institutions of higher education, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the effort’s leaders assigned a deadline of Nov. 30 for schools to respond, with threats of escalation facing those that fail to do so.

KSU communications director Tammy DeMel, however, disputes the characterization that the school has failed to respond to the students’ demands, pointing out that university officials have met with student representatives to discuss the matter, and that President Papp even released a statement Tuesday reporting on the progress of those meetings.

“Kennesaw State University officials did not miss the deadline to respond to students,” DeMel told Campus Reform unequivocally. “Two members of the University's administration met at length on Monday evening, November 30, with a group of eight students to address the concerns expressed in their letter.”

In his official statement, Papp told students that additional meetings will be held “to further address your concerns,” and reiterated his commitment to their cause.

“I want you to know that I am committed to the safety of every student, and that I am dedicated to advancing the principles of inclusiveness and fairness,” he wrote. “It is because of my commitment that I created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and KSU’s six presidential commissions focused on diversity. I want to ensure that Kennesaw State is an inclusive and welcoming university.”

Acknowledging that “we have more work to do at KSU to achieve this,” Papp said that he plans to personally attend one of the future meetings, but stopped short of committing to any specific initiatives or policy changes.

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