Earlier this year at Convocation, I encouraged our incoming freshmen to use their time at the University of Kansas to begin addressing our society’s great challenges.
Two days ago, we came together for a town hall discussion of perhaps the most persistent of these challenges — racism and discrimination, which still exists throughout our society and, sadly, here on our campuses. It’s a challenge that is all the more daunting because it requires that we look within ourselves to address it.
For more than two hours Wednesday evening, students and faculty shared their experiences with racism and other forms of discrimination at KU. Some of the instances described were troubling. Some were despicable. All of them were heartbreaking, and it pained me to hear that so many of you are experiencing this type of intolerance. This is not acceptable. Not at KU, and not anywhere in our society.
Recent events at Yale University, the University of Missouri and other schools have amplified our nation’s ongoing conversation about race and, more generally, about respect, responsibility and free speech. But while these events have been in the news, they are not new. They are just the latest chapters in our society’s long and troubled history of racism and intolerance.
Diversity and equity are foundational values for our university. But as we heard Wednesday, we are not living up to these values. Not when our own students, faculty and staff feel unsafe or unwelcome on our campuses. We can do better. We must do better. And we will do better.
If there was one thing I took from Wednesday’s forum, it’s that students, faculty and staff want action, and they want it now. As I said Wednesday evening, I am committed to continuing our ongoing efforts to address racism and discrimination at KU. 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. KU will be a leader in how universities address this challenge.
At the same time, we must all understand that, when it comes to racism and discrimination, change is unlikely to happen from the top down. Change has to happen from within our university, and it must involve all of us — administrators, students, faculty, staff and alumni — working together. The university must be able to count on each of you to help us do better. In the end, we are all human beings, and we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. And we are all Jayhawks.
I want to thank all of you who joined me at the town hall Wednesday, particularly those who shared your personal stories and concerns. It took incredible strength for you to recount your most painful experiences in an open forum, and I appreciate that you did so.
To all of you who who are hurting: I see you. I hear you. You matter. And together, we will do better.