Staff Editorial: Now is not the time for silence

The events that transpired Thursday and spurred a police investigation have incited discussions of racism on campus and brought to the attention of students a seeming lack of timely and sufficient responses from those in positions of power on campus.

Thursday evening’s events resulted in a tense meeting in the SGA office Friday that drew nearly 40 concerned students, a social media firestorm, and a police investigation of the alleged racist speech and battery by Student Body President Paige Hungate’s parents targeting Joseph Shepard following his farewell speech as outgoing student body president.

Steven Shepard’s account of the evening, which was posted immediately following the incident, has amassed nearly a thousand shares on Facebook. Steven Shepard is Joseph Shepard’s father.

Even though university officials were immediately made aware of the incident, it took the university nearly 24 hours to release, via Shocker Blast, a statement about the situation.

“Wichita State University does not in any way condone or tolerate violence, discriminatory behavior or hate speech,” the response reads.

“We regret that waiting for the investigation to conclude has been perceived by some as a lack of concern about inappropriate speech.”

The response also promised that university efforts “to deter incidents of discrimination in the future” will be “broadened in weeks to come.”

A response issued by Student Government Association the following day was an effort to distance the association from the incident without any direct mention of the alleged racially charged attack.

“Student Government Association as a functioning body does not have any involvement with personal legal matters,” the statement read.

It seems apparent that the decided style of response to controversy by those in positions of university leadership takes on the form of generic statements of lackluster denunciation and flimsy, hollow promises of nothing in particular.

President John Bardo has yet to release a statement regarding the situation, which seems in-line with his recent absence from campus issues.

Following a series of chalk drawings that included racial slurs were left on campus in December, Bardo released a swift statement of condemnation. “We deplore all forms of hate speech, including these acts of vandalism,” Bardo said in the statement.

In an interview with The Sunflower late last month, President Bardo discussed his changing role as president and his move away from a focus on the university’s internal functions and towards external operations at the state and federal legislature levels. He said such a role is typical of presidents at major research universities.

“A lot of these issues should be wrestled within the organization with not necessarily everything coming to the president’s office,” Bardo said at the time.

As president of a university — research or otherwise — Bardo is a top figure of authority and the face of the university. A president of a university cannot simply remove himself from on-campus situations. Student issues should be a top priority and cannot continue to be put on the back burner by leaders. This situation will not go away by putting our heads in the sand.

The Sunflower stands strongly opposed to racism and acts of violence. The word allegedly used Thursday night against Shepard is disgusting and should neither be tolerated nor met with lukewarm responses that seem to brush the gravity of the incident under the rug. What does President Bardo have to say?