During a meeting filled with tears and anger, students last night voiced their safety concerns related to a social media firestorm that ignited when the student government vice president posted her support for immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, who lost his bid for governor.
Passions dominated the Associated Student Government Diversity and Inclusion Committee, with students expressing anger and frustration, committee members struggling with the political and emotional toll and a pair of administrators attempting to ease fears.
The safety concerns were fielded by Lynn Hobson, dean of students. Anger over a perceived lack of administrative response was directed at Jim Williams, vice president of student affairs.
Many students felt their personal safety was threatened because of the hate expressed towards them after they supported the ASG vice president’s resignation, or impeachment, after she made a post that used “illegal alien.”
The post, which endorsed Kobach for governor, said he would “put Kansans first, not illegal aliens.” It was initially a public post, made on Todd’s personal Facebook account. Todd later deleted the post.
On Facebook and Twitter, discussion on the Todd issue was polarized. Some comments called students “snowflakes” and defended Todd, while others slung accusations of racism.
More than 40 students attended the meeting. There were also a faculty member and five administrators in attendance, including Hobson and Williams.
The question asked of Williams, over and over again, was “What are you going to do?”
“From the viewpoint of an institution we are going to continue...to empower the continuation of coming up with...solutions,” Williams said. “I cannot say this is all going to change and you’re all protected and you’re in an environment now where you’re not going to feel threatened. You are going to be threatened. I’m sorry.”
At one point, more than 25 students were crying based on their fears for personal safety and lack of response from the administration.
“Anybody that is in this room that is being threatened, you are welcome to come with Lynn (Hobson) and I to our offices and we will bring Police and Safety over so we can get it documented,” Williams said. “From the moment this issue came up (our main focus) was safety...We’ve got to do that. That’s the protection we can offer at this point.”
It was not clear whether undocumented students who reported this issue would be protected from immigration services. At one point Williams said that ‘yes students would be protected’ and at another point he seemed to agreed with a student that said the university could not shield students from immigration officials.
Williams also recommended that students shut down their personal social media as a way to deal with the problem.
“The administration can not step in and say ‘We don’t like what you’re doing,’” said Jim Williams. “I understand the pain and I certainly am listening, but I will simply will say we cannot control all of the hate that is on your social media pages.”
The meeting was so full that venues had to be changed twice. It took place in the Preston Family Room.
“She (Todd) has gotten a lot of support and that support has been hate against us,” said Madi Alford, junior political science major, while fighting back tears. “People telling us they’re going to slash our tires (and) talking about lynching us. Are you as ESU prepared to tell my mom when I am lynched in a tree somewhere that that was okay because no administration has stood up?”
Alford also asked that administration release a general statement.
“Forget Michaela, forget she’s even involved in this,” Alford said. “Why are you guys not talking to students? Send out a general email (saying) ‘It is not okay on our campus to be racist.'”
Students were also angry that administration hadn’t stepped in to help control the situation.
“I think it is so sad that today is the first day that actual administration has stepped into this room and has shown their presence when it should have been shown last week,” said Terraya Carter, junior art therapy major.
Taylor Lee, Black Student Union president and senior sociology major, said she felt like the people posting on social media were using scare tactics to reduce the voice of the minority students on campus.
“When we spoke up, we weren’t (talking) on her race or her political views,” Lee said. “That wasn’t the problem in the first place. The problem was that she’s in a leadership position, standing up for a student body, and she put what she did on Facebook. That was the problem. She shouldn’t have used that word in the first place.”
Kayla Gilmore, senior political science major, said they’ve received numerous messages attacking her for her beliefs.
“My identity is on a public format, on a Youtube video, that has over 100,000 followers and got over 51,000 views in less than 24 hours leading to my Facebook profile that is now being circulated,” Gilmore said. “...The way they talk about me, the way they talk about black people (and) the way they talk about undocumented students is simply ridiculous.”
Michaela Todd, ASG vice president and senior political science and communications major, attended the last five minutes of the meeting.
“I had meetings that I had already made arrangements to,” Todd said. “I was unable to make it. I would have been if I could have.”
Todd also said she did not support her supporters who attacked other students on social media.
“I don’t condone anybody who attacks people for what they believe in, at all,” Todd said. “It’s unacceptable. It’s hurting another human being. I understand that there have been some people who have gotten retaliation and I am still here to listen to them so I came to listen as much as I could. That won’t be tolerated on this campus. We can’t be attacking each other.”