On March 19, 2020, the ACLU of Kansas filed a lawsuit on behalf of four individuals against Highland Community College, its VP of Student Services, and its Athletic Director for pervasive racially hostile and discriminatory treatment of black students, especially athletes.
HCC has knowingly permitted and maintained a racially hostile environment by targeting black students with additionally law enforcement scrutiny, intentionally disciplining students in a racially discriminatory manner, and undertaking coordinated efforts to remove them dfrom the school white the ultimate goal of replacing them with white student-athletes.
The plaintiffs of the suit are young African American men and women who attended HCC during the Fall 2019 semester and who were subjected to rampant racial harassment and discrimination committed or approved by HCC's highest-ranking officials. These officials made demeaning comments about the plaintiffs' "wild hair" and disciplined them for supposed infractions that were forgiven or ignored when committed by white students.
Highland Community College enrolls just over 3,200 students, 87% of whom are white. Less than 6% of the student body is African American, and the school has a diveristy score 0.24 - nearly half the state average for a community college. The majority of the HCC's student-athletes are African American. During the 2019 season, 104 out of 111 members of the football team were black.
The college and its Athletic Director Bryan Dorrell have used a three-prong strategy to reduce the number of African American student-athletes by disparately expelling them; subjecting prospective recruits who are black to excessive scrutiny, such as background checks, not imposed on white recruits; and directing coaches to recruit more white prospective student-athletes over black prospects. Dorrell regularly directed the football, women's basketball, and men's basketball coaches to recruit "more local kids" and "less Southern kids." He asked the women's basketball coach to "recruit more players that the local community could relate to," and when asked to specify what he meant, replied, "you know exactly what I meant by that." Dorrel also asked the college football coaches to recuirt more "Kansas kids" and stop recruiting players who wore their hair in dreadlocks or wicks.
The campus security, contracted with the Highland Police Department, has also maintained an official practice of discriminatory searches, surveillance, and harassment of black student-athletes on and off campus. Vice President for Student Services at HCC Eric Ingmire oversees campus secuirty and has ultimate authority in setting practices related to on-campus policing, including searches of student dorms and vehicles. Campus security officers have a practice of surveilling and interrogating black student-athletes in multiple settings on campus, including driving slowly in their squad car behind black student-athletes walking on and off campus. HCC Security officers have followed and surveilled plaintiffs on multiple occasions.
HCC has disproportionately removed or expelled black student-athletes for conduct such as "insubordination" and "cursing" that its own policies prescribe only low to medium sanctions.
Additionally, as the suit alleges of HCC, the "Board of Trustees led by Russell Karn hired President Deborah Fox and Defendant Dorrell in order to implement the Board’s vision of a racially homogenous campus with fewer African American athletes. The Board selected both administrators notwithstanding their lack of qualifications because of their shared racially discriminatory views and willingness to execute the racially discriminatory policies that violated Plaintiffs’ civil rights." Prior to his hiring, Dorrel had no prior experience as a collegiate athletic director, assistant athletic director, or head coach.
Plaintiffs have suffered discriminatory harassment, expulsion, and damages as a result of the defendants' unconstitutional actions and policies.
In January of 2021, the ACLU of Kansas and the Highland Community College defendants reached a settlement.