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After promising to join protest, Kansas State president to miss Black lives rally

Mará Rose Williams, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tori Swanson was pleasantly surprised when Kansas State University President Richard Myers proposed a solution to drown out racist voices: Protest and raise the mantra "Black Lives Matter" even louder.

She was even more surprised when he promised to protest alongside students. But when she and other students found out he would miss the first protest they planned -- July 4 in Manhattan -- they were angry.

"I wasn't surprised that the president put his vacation over the outcries of his students -- he can easily tune us out and enjoy his festivities," Swanson told the Kansas City Star on Tuesday. "For Black students on campus, there's nothing to celebrate."

K-State has been under a national spotlight in recent days since Jaden McNeil, a junior in political science and head of K-State's controversial America First Students chapter, posted insensitive -- some argue racist -- tweets about George Floyd. The death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man killed under the knee of a white police officer on a Minneapolis street in May, sparked protests for Black lives and against police brutality and led to a national reckoning on systemic racism.

McNeil's tweet -- "Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!" -- drew a flood of responses from across the country. Many supported his right to free speech. Most denounced the tweet, and many called for K-State to take immediate action. K-State students and athletes called for him to be expelled, though it's not clear if K-State has the power to do that.

McNeil has described America First Students as "a campus conservative organization defined by our support for closed borders, traditional families, the American worker, and Christian values." K-State officials said his group is not registered on campus because it does not have the minimum of five members.

 

Some students under the hashtag #BlackAtKState went online to talk about a need for better race and cultural relations.

In a statement, Myers asked administrators to "fast-track" policy to "combat racism and bigotry and other forms of social injustice" across campus. And, he called for "peaceful protests" to "let those who spew hatred and bigotry know that we have an even stronger voice."

Myers has been working from his home in Virginia, university officials said, and won't be in Manhattan for the student-led, community rally at 4 p.m. July 4 at Triangle Park. But Jeff Morris, university spokesman, said K-State officials "are in discussions" about holding a rally on campus some time after students return for fall semester. "But no firm plans yet."

Amaya Molinar, a sophomore from Haysville, Kansas, said having Myers protest with students is not what's most important to her.

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