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Diversity of "paramount importance" to K-State

By Keener A Tippin II


It's a dazzling tossed salad with a conglomeration of ingredients and a kaleidoscope of color and taste.

It's a beautiful woven tapestry or quilt, the different pieces coming together to make the whole and the richness that results; it's the beauty of a mosaic.

It's two people climbing to the top of the world's tallest mountain, each reaching out and grabbing hold of a star; it's the decision to work together to combine their individual stars and create one star -- the brightest star in the universe.

It is the mirror in which we discover ourselves; the window through which others see new meaning.

It is the sense of self that you must be a part of something greater than yourself.

In the words of educator Ernest Boyer, it's a tree of cultural identities with many branches and leaves -- each representing an assortment of nationalities, cultures and uniqueness -- yet all having common roots.

It is we and we are all K-State.

"It" is diversity and at Kansas State University, diversity counts.

More than a one-size-fits-all mold or the catchy theme to a multi-approach campaign designed to increase the awareness and appreciation of diversity to all students, faculty and staff, in the words of K-State President Jon Wefald, diversity is of "paramount importance" for the university and its future. So vital that it has become the core of the institution's mission, culture and image to promote and champion the cause of diversity.

Since he began his "university renaissance" at K-State in 1986, Wefald has listed diversity concerns as a priority agenda item, talking almost until he is blue in the face at state of the university addresses and other conversations. In his strategic plan for the university, diversity is the No. 3 plank.

After struggling for years to "get past the rhetorical phase" of thinking about and acting on issues related to diversity, K-State is at the threshold of evolving into a more real-world implementation phase, said provost James Coffman.

"We're in the transition of those two things -- of wanting to do the right thing and talking about doing the right thing but not altogether sure what the right thing is and for darn sure not real confident as to how to go about it."

As the "symbolic head" of the university, Wefald recognizes the magnitude of his setting the tone for diversity. In the face of attacks on affirmative action, he remains in the forefront of championing its cause, steadfast in his determination as he tells deans, department heads, etc., that it's not just the right thing to do; it's the sensible thing to do -- particularly in light of rapidly changing demographics across the United States and around the world.

"If I don't believe in it how can I expect people who report to me to do so?" Wefald asks. "Perhaps we weren't successful at first, but if you go from 1986 to 2001, I mean we can say without question -- vice presidents, associate vice presidents, deans, department heads, the faculty leadership group, the student senate leadership group – they're all on board.

"I think even more so today, diversity has to be crucial for K-State and the state of Kansas, but the whole world," Wefald said. "We're living in a global economy and so I think it is incumbent upon all of us -- at K-State and America -- to promote and champion diversity. Not just because it's a good in of itself, but I think it's in our best interest because we want our students to be influenced from all over the world, of whatever race, creed, religion or color."

The efforts and results of this focus on diversity at Kansas State University are featured in this issue of Perspectives. Journey through the programs, initiatives and research that help to make K-State colorful, both figuratively and literally. Meet some of the diverse students who have been touched by K-State and see what K-State has to offer, for everyone.


This piece is reprinted in part from the K-Stater magazine, with permission.

Fall 2003