The Justice Department has announced a settlement agreement with Highland Community College (HCC) in Kansas to resolve the department’s investigation into allegations that Black students, primarily student-athletes, living on HCC’s main campus experienced discriminatory treatment in many aspects of campus life, including discipline, housing and interactions with campus security officers. The complaints alleged that Black students were targeted for searches and surveillance and disciplined more severely than their white peers, resulting in their unfair removal from campus housing or even expulsion.
Under the settlement, the college “will improve the fairness and transparency of disciplinary proceedings to prevent such discrimination,” according to DOJ. “The agreement will also strengthen policies, procedures, and training on campus security to promote consistent, non-discriminatory interactions between security personnel and students. In addition, the agreement requires HCC to strengthen policies, procedures, and training to ensure an effective response to students’ complaints of racial discrimination.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division noted that “no college student should have their educational experience marred or disrupted by discrimination based on their race. 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. The Justice Department is committed to protecting the civil rights of college students across the country to pursue a higher education in a safe, welcoming, and discrimination-free environment.”
“The U.S. Department of Justice is tasked to serve as a defender of the U.S. Constitution, and the Fourteenth Amendment entitles all persons to equal protection under the law,” said U.S. Attorney Kate E. Brubacher for the District of Kansas. “When educational institutions are making decisions about student discipline, race and ethnicity are never relevant factors. 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.”
The department opened its investigation in January 2022 under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The college “cooperated fully throughout the investigation and expressed a desire before the investigation was concluded to make positive changes for its students by revising its policies and practices, training employees and expanding student engagement to improve campus climate,” according to DOJ. Under the agreement, Highland Community College will:
- Reform policies on discipline, campus security, housing and racial harassment;
- Revise policies and procedures for responding to students’ complaints of racial discrimination and ensure that complaints are handled by trained employees who understand their responsibilities;
- Ensure that the disciplinary process is fair and equitable, including by analyzing discipline data to ensure nondiscrimination;
- Train campus security and other staff on effective de-escalation techniques and non-coercive methods of gathering information;
- Survey and improve the climate and culture of HCC’s main campus and cultivate safe and welcoming spaces for Black students; and
- Ensure students’ equitable access to HCC’s educational programs and activities regardless of race.