The U.S. Justice Department has ordered a rural northeast Kansas community college to end discriminatory practices and treat Black students fairly.
As reported by Rachel Mipro at Kansas Reflector, the investigation into Highland Community College, located 80 miles north of Kansas City, followed allegations that Black students, primarily student-athletes living on campus, were subjected to discrimination.
The federal investigation began in January 2022, but the majority-white college has been accused of racial discrimination for years, according to Mipro.
“No college student should have their educational experience marred or disrupted by discrimination based on their race,” said assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “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.”
Black students complained that they were targeted for searches and surveillance and disciplined more severely than white students, resulting in higher rates of expulsion and removal from campus housing.
A 2020 lawsuit against the school estimated that Black students made up less than 6 percent of the community college’s 3,200 students, though they formed the majority of the school’s student-athletes. According to the lawsuit, 104 out of 111 members of the football team during the 2019 football season were Black.
According to Mipro's report, the lawsuit also claimed then-athletic director Bryan Dorrell was strategizing to reduce the number of Black student-athletes through expulsion, excessive scrutiny, and having coaches recruit white student-athletes over Black potential students.
The lawsuit alleged Dorrell had told coaches to recruit “less Southern kids,” and told the college football coaches to stop recruiting players who had “dreadlocks and wicks,” among other allegations. The college settled the lawsuit by paying $15,000 per student and agreeing to conduct anti-discrimination training.
A different lawsuit filed by three former coaches of the women’s basketball team also alleged college officials, especially Dorrell, wanted to rid the school of Black student-athletes, Mipro reported for Kansas Reflector.
The Justice Department announced Monday that its investigation had ended with a settlement agreement, with the college agreeing to improve fairness for all students and do away with discriminatory treatment.
According to Mipro, the school will follow six steps outlined by the settlement agreement to respond to student complaints. Among other reforms, the school must have security staff go through new training, change housing and disciplinary policies, and make safe and welcoming spaces for Black students, as well as improve procedures for responding to student complaints of racial discrimination.