By Justin Sweitzer
New KU Dean of Students Donavan McCargo outlined the direction of the university’s new Bias Response Task Force in a sitdown interview with The Keystone. He described the force as a mechanism to provide support to students while properly addressing bias incidents that occur on campus.
The force’s formation comes after multiple poster sightings on campus during the spring 2017 semester, which came from alt-right and racist groups including the white nationalist organization Identity Evropa and white nationalist blog The Right Stuff.
McCargo said having the task force in place will help the university address such bias incidents with the advantage of getting input from various student perspectives.
“I think the benefit of having this in place now is there is a centralized focus on how we can support students who may have had an experience with bias incidents or bias situations,” McCargo said.
McCargo pointed to student leaders like student government board President Molly Gallagher as leaders who will help provide the task force with the perspectives needed to tailor university responses to help students in the best way possible.
He said that despite certain student leaders not being on the task force, like the president of KU’s Black Student Union, the diverse mindset of the force will help to provide a multidimensional approach to how the university addresses future incidents of bias that don’t align with university values.
“I think that the beauty in the task force is there are diverse thinkers. You know, sometimes we define diversity by race, ethnicity, gender, class—[being] diverse in thought is just as important,” he said.
“There are what I deem, if we were to just look around the table, there are people of all different backgrounds, and I believe by having that type of diversity, in quotes, at the table, we will be able to understand and respond to different issues that arise, keeping in mind all of our students.”
When asked how the university will balance responses to hateful rhetoric with the right to free speech on campus, McCargo said, “There is a high level of consciousness in terms of when we need to respond. We have our equity and diversity person, he’s on the task force and he comes with a breadth and depth of knowledge in terms of what legal ramifications may apply if we take certain actions.”
“We’re developing a framework to operationalize when we do respond rather than just off the cuff, just be kneejerk,” he continued. “This task force is designed to think about the issue, think about how we can appropriately respond within the context of the law and folks’ rights—first amendment rights.”
McCargo said the force’s first meeting on Sept. 11 was introductory in nature, offering members that chance to gain an understanding of what would need to be done to create an effective task force. He said it provided an opportunity to reflect on what events led to the task force’s formation, while giving campus and community leaders an opportunity to sketch out how the group would work going forward to best address future incidents.
While he was adamant about the importance of President Kenneth Hawkinson’s new initiative, McCargo said that the responsibility of promoting campus values does not just rest with the Bias Response Task Force.
He stressed the need for all community members to open the dialogue to those with differing opinions, and stand together to foster the type of environment that the university strives for.
“Beyond this task force and this being a big deal in some ways, we have an obligation as members of this community to make this place the best place possible,” McCargo said.