Forum raises questions of diversity on campus


The forum, held in light of the series of events at the University of Missouri, was attended by more than a 100 people.

More than 100 Wichita State students, faculty and staff packed a room Thursday to ask questions of President John Bardo, who organized the open discussion in response to national racial tensions, referring to recent events at the University of Missouri.

The forum was intentioned to better inform the student body of the university’s plans to increase diversity on campus, Bardo said.

But several students leaders in the audience questioned whether any actions will actually be taken.

Tim Wolfe, Missouri’s previous university president, stepped down Monday after students called for his resignation due to a perceived lack of administrative response to campus racism.

Bardo was asked if he created the forum because he was worried about his position.

“I’m 67 years old I can go home any time I want to,” he said. “No, I’m not worried about my position. That’s really not an issue to me.”

“We want answers”

Student Body President Joseph Shepard said he did not believe Bardo.

“There are a lot of unhappy students here, there are a lot of unhappy faculty here and a lot of unhappy alumni,” Shepard said. “I would be afraid for my job if that was the case.”

Shepard said he wanted to address questions others were afraid to ask due to a “culture of fear.”

He addressed goal six of Wichita State’s strategic planning initiative: “Be a campus that reflects — in staff, faculty and students — the evolving diversity of society.”

Shepard asked Bardo why three colleges on campus do not have this strategic goal in place, why campus resources are only for certain communities and demographics, and he asked about the diversity of both administration and Bardo’s cabinet.

“We cannot have people advocating for us who do not understand us,” Shepard said. “At what point are you all going to start listening to us?”

Shepard’s questioning was met with cheers and applause from those in the audience. Bardo responded and said that moving forward is a slow process and that he hoped to continue meeting with Shepard to work through his questions.

Bardo’s rebuttal did not quench Shepard’s thirst for answers.

“When we meet I get no answers and no one wants to take accountability,” Shepard said. “So what am I to do? I represent 14,000 students and they want answers and I am unable to give it to them.”

Shepard then asked about where student fees were going because the numbers did not add up. He eventually acquiesced his fervent questioning in hopes of talks with Bardo in future meetings.

“No, we’re not getting answers,” Shepard said. “Let the record show that.”

Patrick, a first-year fine arts student, had questions about provisions for non-traditional older students.

“I’ve been to WSU twice and personally been victimized just because of my age and my major,” Patrick said. “The professors think that I’m too old to be doing what I do.”

He said he quit after his first year and came back to give it another try, only to encounter the same ageist remarks. Now he’s considering quitting again.

“I came here and I’ve got nothing but rotten responses,” Patrick said.

Bardo said an office was made to deal with Patrick’s and other older students’ issues in the past year. Bardo said older students have been in decline on campus since 1989, and that it was a big issue for him and his administration.

Alumnus Justin Hall worked in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for three years and said they made semester calendars. The last calendar he did was a memory calendar that involved activists, playwrights, artists and actors. The calendar included two Caucasians and a mix of other races.

“When this met the eyes of a provost, he said, ‘Why aren’t there enough white people on this calendar?’” Hall said at the forum Thursday. “How can we support a diversity initiative if the administration at the highest level doesn’t find value in that?”

Bardo gave the floor to Provost Anthony Vizzini to respond.

“I didn’t recognize a lot of the faces because it was very artistic,” Vizzini said. “In my first glance I didn’t see any white faces … I didn’t see anybody that looked like me … When it was explained to me I realized my mistake.”

‘Hate speech’ and threats

Multiple students had questions regarding “hate speech” directed at them on campus, including Maira Salim, president of the Muslim Student Association and a member of Spectrum, the LGBT group on campus.

“What is the administration planning on doing for the personal rights of students?” Salim asked. “When we speak out and get threats, administration hasn’t taken a stance.”

Bardo said he detested what was said to people during the chapel incident and he brought them before legal counsel and University Police.

They told him the ugly speech was still inside first amendment rights, Bardo said.

“The comments I have heard did not threaten an action, they were just ugly,” he said. “If there were comments that threatened an action, get those to us and we will act on them because they go against the first amendment.”

“If I can censor them I can censor you, and I don’t want to do that,” Bardo said.

Bardo said students should call the emergency number for UPD — 316-978-3450 — if they feel they are threatened.


A student from the audience suggested a system be put in place in which students could text University Police so they can be alerted right away.

“Let me check into how we can do that,” Bardo responded. “I think that’s a really good idea.”

Bardo also liked the idea of having a code of ethics for those associated with the university, which would hold those associated with WSU accountable when they are not abiding by those standards.

“I think we can have a code of ethics and probably should,” Bardo said.

Kennedy Musamali, director of Student Support Services, said he had heard a lot about planning from Bardo, but not any specific, measurable goals with a timeline.

“Sometimes planning can be wishes without goals,” Musamali said.

 Musamali said creating goals with timelines from one year to a few years would allow administration to go back and critique progress and setbacks.

Bardo said creating specific goals was something they could do this year and the administration would share those goals with the public.

Student perceptions

Senior Elle Boatman said she was not completely satisfied with the forum, but it was a step in the right direction for the university.

“Unlike some other [forums] that I’ve gone to where they have prepared questions, this was a lot more open,” Boatman said. “Students and faculty at the university had the opportunity to ask direct questions without them being filtered.”

Junior Marilyn Morton thought the forum unified student voices and concerns, but she was skeptical of Bardo’s responses.

“I didn’t get the feeling that he was taking anything from it,” Morton said. “He always had a politician’s response to everything. If I had a dollar for every time he said strategy I’d probably be able to pay for my books.”

In the midst of the forum, a student asked that Bardo join them in their fight against adversity, because while Bardo and administration are planning, many students are fighting.

Bardo’s connection to Wichita

As a senior in college, Bardo said he worked as a pharmacy tech in a hospital, delivering pharmaceuticals to different areas. Saturdays, he would occasionally bring narcotics to the emergency room.

“I saw people with gunshots; saw people with knives sticking out of them; saw people who had their heads sliced open,” Bardo said. “I had a really hard time understanding how people could do that to each other. That colored how I view what I should have done for the rest of my life.”


Bardo said he came back to Wichita because this is home for him and his family. His wife is a three-time WSU alumna, he used to be a faculty member here and his son was born here.

“I came back to WSU to try to make a difference in the lives of people I care about,” Bardo said. “This is about how we move forward.”