KU’s Black Student Coalition leads sit-in protest over school’s handling of diversity, race issues

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A week of advocacy at the University of Kansas continued in earnest Thursday, as members of the school’s Black Student Coalition began an hours-long protest in response to longstanding issues with how Kansas’ flagship university responds to issues of diversity, equity and racism.

Joined by folks from KU’s Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition and other student advocacy groups, demonstrators chalked the sidewalks outside of Strong Hall — KU’s administrative building — with messages imploring those who work inside to listen to the needs of community members whose identities are traditionally underrepresented.

Niya McAdoo, co-founder and president of the BSC, told those gathered that the peaceful protest was in response to KU’s ongoing mishandling of issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion, combined with the university’s unwillingness to publicly denounce white supremacy and the factors that allow it to fester.

“We’re here today to protest real things that are happening to our communities on campus. BIPOC communities, queer-trans communities, the things that are happening to students overall, faculty, GTA staff — the continued suppression of these groups on campus, we condemn this,” McAdoo said. “It’s been too long that there’s been a history of these things happening on KU’s campus.”

“It needs to be stopped, and today is our day to speak up, let our voices be heard and let them know that we are not going to continue to stand for the treatment that they continue to put on us,” she said.

James Gathany/CDC KU community members chalk the sidewalk outside of Strong Hall on Jayhawk Boulevard on Thursday, March 11, 2021. (Conner Mitchell/@connermitchell0)

Much of the recent aversion to the university’s handling of diversity, equity and inclusion-centric matters can be traced back to a December decision to “realign” KU’s various offices tasked with addressing the most pressing issues to those with underrepresented and marginalized identities.

That realignment included promoting the vice provost of diversity, equity and inclusion to a role in faculty development, adding the term “belonging” to DEI efforts, appointing the university ombudsman as the interim vice provost of the new DEIB office, and altering the structure of which offices report to which branch of the KU administration.

However, it also resulted in two staff members losing their jobs — and those gathered on Thursday said that the firing of Black and brown people during a pandemic shows where KU’s true priorities are rather than demonstrating the university truly cares about people of color.

“At the end of the day, students, faculty, staff, GTAs, (KU) depend(s) on us for their job,” McAdoo said. “They would have no job if it were not for us. It is time for them to denounce white supremacy, denounce racism, to denounce continued prejudice and stand with their students who are telling them these issues are real, they’re happening to us every day, and it’s time to stand up for us. Period.”

The group planned Thursday to sit in the hallways of Strong Hall until 9 a.m. on Friday, though McAdoo cautioned those gathered that the building does close at 10 p.m. Thursday and she didn’t know to what lengths the university would go to ensure the protest didn’t stretch through the night.

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