Kansas college accused of forcing out Black students must reform after DOJ probe

A community college in northeast Kansas has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice following the agency’s investigation into racial discrimination that allegedly forced out Black students.

The agreement requires reforms at Highland Community College, where Black students were allegedly “targeted for searches and surveillance” and were more harshly disciplined than white peers, the Justice Department said Monday.

That unfair discipline reportedly led to the removal of Black students from campus housing or expulsion from the college.

“No college student should have their educational experience marred or disrupted by discrimination based on their race,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, of the agency’s Civil Rights Division, said in a news release.

Before the DOJ investigation began in early 2022, the ACLU of Kansas filed a lawsuit on behalf of former students over the college’s “pervasive racially hostile and discriminatory treatment of Black students, especially athletes.”

The then-athletic director was accused of trying to reduce the number of Black athletes at the college, leading to an “unprecedented” number of Black athletes getting expelled. The college’s security singled out Black students for room and car searches, while the administration frequently delivered “excessive sanctions for minor and even bogus infractions,” according to the lawsuit.

The college agreed to settle the lawsuit in part by paying each of the four students $15,000, KCUR reported.

Another lawsuit filed by three former coaches alleged college officials sought to “make Highland white again.”

According to one of the lawsuits, fewer than 6% of the 3,200 students at the college were Black as of 2022.

The college, about 30 miles northwest of St. Joseph, has agreed with the Justice Department to change its disciplinary proceedings and to review discipline data to make sure it is not discriminatory.

Kate Brubacher, the U.S. attorney for Kansas, said race should never be relevant when educational institutions dole out discipline.

“Colleges and universities play a powerful role in shaping the development of young people,” she said in a statement, “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.”