The U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement agreement with Highland Community College in Kansas on Monday after investigating the college for discrimination against Black students, particularly student athletes.
The investigation launched in January 2022 after Black students alleged that they were surveilled and subject to harsher disciplinary measures than white classmates, including removal from campus housing and expulsion.
The Justice Department agreement requires the college to make its disciplinary policies more transparent, improve policies and procedures for responding to students’ racial discrimination complaints, dedicate an administrator to addressing these kinds of complaints, and ensure campus security personnel have training and policies in place that prevent discriminatory or inconsistent behavior toward students.
“When educational institutions are making decisions about student discipline, race and ethnicity are never relevant factors,” Kate E. Brubacher, U.S. attorney for the district of Kansas, said in a Justice Department press release. “Colleges and universities play a powerful role in shaping the development of young people, so it’s imperative that they help set the standard for creating environments where all students are treated with the same level of respect and fairness.”
Deborah Fox, president of the college, said in a statement that the college wants “to ensure that all students feel welcome to learn, develop, and thrive as they take important steps in their educational journey.” She added that there’s “always room for improvement” and “we welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively” with the Justice Department.
Fox said Highland’s leaders also committed to creating three new administrative roles and hiring outside experts to ensure “valuable training for all staff and faculty so that we can be responsive to student concerns and take prompt action on any incidents that may be a potential issue.”
The campus, which has heavily recruited Black athletes in the past, has a history of racially charged incidents, according to KCUR, the NPR station in Kansas City. A former women’s basketball coach at the college, B. J. Smith, said she was asked to focus on recruiting white athletes and was dismissed after refusing. The ACLU of Kansas filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the college on behalf of four Black students in 2020 and Highland settled, giving each student $15,000 and promising to institute antidiscrimination training for employees.
Fox was also widely criticized for comparing a Black student athlete to Adolf Hitler in a recording of a 2021 meeting leaked last year, arguing the student had too much influence over his peers. She referred to Hitler as a “great leader” who misused his leadership skills.
“No college student should have their educational experience marred or disrupted by discrimination based on their race,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in the release. “Community colleges are an important pathway to four-year institutions and the workforce, and federal law requires that their campuses, programs and activities be equally available to all without regard to race.”