Bring back Kap

“Students of color say they feel increasingly unwelcome at UNR”—that’s the headline of an Oct. 10 article by Wenei Philimon, a University of Nevada, Reno, student journalist. It was posted to the Reynolds Sandbox, a forum for UNR student journalism hosted by the platform Medium.

The article features interviews with several students recounting their negative experiences with UNR campus police, other students and the general population of Reno. It also details some recent incidents that have attributed to this unwelcome perception: the viral photo of a then-UNR student at the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017; racist incidents involving campus officers from that same year, including the officer who wore blackface for a Halloween costume; and, just this semester, racist posters and swastikas appearing on campus, and a university-sanctioned appearance by right-wing speaker Charlie Kirk.

The anecdotal accounts from students are supported by the results of a “campus climate” survey commissioned by the university. The survey concluded: “The overall campus climate, workplace climate and classroom climate were described as comfortable by many respondents, however, less comfortable by a significant minority of other respondents.”

This is a widespread, systematic problem, without a simple solution, but there's a basic step that the university could take to fix at least part of the perception problem: The university should re-embrace its most famous alumnus, Colin Kaepernick.

A few years ago, the face of the former NFL star could be found on official posters all over campus, and on university promotional and recruitment materials. But, in recent years, as Kaepernick has become more known for his activism—he started the movement of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and systematic racism—the posters have vanished.

Kaepernick has been blackballed by the NFL. Team owners have—in essence—colluded to keep him out of a job. And it appears that the University of Nevada, Reno, has done the same to his legacy.

If the university were to once again embrace Kaepernick as an important icon, it would signal that the university values the contributions of its students of color. It would also signal that the university isn't ashamed of socially aware consciousness, and that the university views community leadership and social activism as things to be celebrated.