#Rockchalkinvisiblehawk could take a page from their compatriots of similar battles.
Corporate ones. Not the civil rights heroes that the University of Kansas student groupseems enamored with, but those who have fought the diversity argument within business. Conference tables and corner offices aren’t as sexy as hunger strikes and tent cities, but the conversations there are more pertinent to the students’ next steps.
After all, black students are not angling against legalized segregation. There’s no governor blocking them entrance to the student union doorway. And no one is hunting down black students for target practice, despite the horrific Yik Yak posts sent last week threatening students at the University of Missouri.
These KU students need to decide if they want to be vocal, or if they want to be effective.
The shame of the situation is that they shouldn’t have to choose. Many of the demands that the Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk students asked for last week during a university forum are solid, important points. And it’s the university’s job to address them.
KU shouldn’t have to be told that student retention is important, or that diversifying the professor ranks is a good idea, or that a climate survey of the campus, scheduled for fall 2016, needs to happen sooner.
A major concern is filling the director position of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, vacant since a May resignation. The office and its staff are important to the students.
Here is where corporate culture can offer some experience. One such office, one good director, will not substantially change the campus.
Businesses forever have been hiring vice presidents of community affairs and vice presidents of diversity or multiculturalism. Rarely do these positions have any relationship to a company’s bottom line. They tend to be powerless, window dressing. The hires are loyal and diligent, but they don’t tend to change corporate culture.
Students also would do well to cull their laundry list of demands. Fifteen demands will get you nowhere fast, especially if it includes such items as reopening a 45-year-old police shooting, an investigation that the university has no control over. That was demand No. 13.
Pick a few doable, impactful items. Then study them for all their nuances and tentacles.
Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a handout from the powers that be that doesn’t address the initial concern. Agitators have been bought off and shut down for generations when they didn’t first perform their own due diligence.
“Diversity” never works unless the top people, the decision-makers holding the purse strings get behind it. Middle managers, (as the people who will carry marching orders forward) are crucial. Middle managers will implode the best-intended policy unless they buy into it. Who is the equivalent in a college setting — the regents, second-tier administrators, the deans? Figure it out for your campus.
Systems don’t respond to people who don’t deeply and intrinsically understand them. And that’s a far different challenge from understanding how it pains you.
Which leads to the much-ridiculed idea of microaggressions. Such clumsy and clueless commentary does wear on people in significant ways. Microaggressions are the comments often made to anyone who doesn’t fit the norm.
It’s asking the Asian students where they are from, insinuating they are foreign-born. It’s daffy comments about black hair, or assuming that all black people grew up in the urban core. To weather such comments is at the heart of being the under-represented, the one who isn’t the majority.
But it’s not racism.
Racism is taking that lack of perspective, a bias or prejudice, and using it to harm someone economically, to keep them from getting a job, an education, a home, a fair shake before a jury.
Certainly, these are issues, for if students don’t feel accepted on campus, it can impact if they graduate.
But an opportunity exists to influence even broader aspects of college life long after they earn their degrees.
A good issue would be the hiring of more diverse faculty. Take to it like a dissertation. Affirmative action initially was a Republican plan within government contracting, but it’s been decimated by the courts and misshapen by corporate America. All of that affects how higher education can and should approach hiring more diverse faculty.
And stay in the conversation. Shutting out people who can be helpful allies won’t do. You don’t have to like them. One complaint from the KU forum was that the two student-body leaders being called on to resign didn’t stand to honor the Black Lives Matter movement. That inaction alone isn’t enough to condemn.
The Jayhawk activists, like students elsewhere, have a major factor in their favor: They are the consumers. They aren’t employees, beholden to a paycheck, a boss.
They have leverage. Well-channeled, they can use it with great success.