By Dillon Thomas
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– Colorado State University has offered to refund two Native American teenagers their travel expenses, while also offering an all-expenses-paid VIP tour of the campus, after accusations of racial profiling during a campus tour.
Thomas and Lloyd Gray, Native American teenagers from New Mexico, said they were on a tour of the CSU Fort Collins campus, when a mother of another visiting student called the police to report their behavior. Police allegedly responded to reports of two suspicious males tailing the group.
CSU Senior Gabriella Visani, a tour guide, was in charge of the tour the Gray brothers attended. It was her final tour of her senior year.
“It was a completely ordinary tour,” Visani told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.
Visani said she never thought the boys were acting suspicious. She said they arrived late for the tour, but still identified themselves upon arrival.
“I noticed the two boys came a little bit later, but I was just happy they joined us,” Visani said.
Lorraine Gray, the mother of the two boys, received a call back in New Mexico.
“Thomas called me frantic, (saying) ‘Somebody called the police on us, because we were quiet,’” Lorraine Gray said.
Lorraine said she was confused, especially since the university was so highly respected by her children.
“All year, (Thomas) kept talking about how he wanted to go. His dream school is CSU,” Lorraine Gray said. “He, and his brother whose graduation is in a few weeks, decided to take a campus tour together. Kind of a brother bonding thing.”
The boys would never finish the tour, after being separated from the group by police.
“I said, ‘Get in the car and come home now,’” Lorraine Gray said.
Visani was never involved in the police report, and didn’t notice anything happened until the tour was completed.
She said, often, tour members will separate from the group to explore on their own. She did not notice police were called, nor did she notice they pulled the boys away from her tour. In a large campus, in a congested building, she said it was easy to lose track of individuals in an entire group.
“I didn’t have any knowledge of them calling the police,” Visani said.
The woman who called police, only identified by the university as a 45-year-old white woman, told 911 dispatch she was suspicious of the way the Gray brothers looked, and their mannerisms. She told dispatch she believed at least one of the brothers was Mexican.
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The informant said the boys seemed to lie about what they wanted to study, and were not talkative. She also reported the Gray brothers were wearing dark clothes, and “looked out of place.”
The informant, who described herself as a mother of a prospective student, said Lloyd Gray had his hands in his pockets, which caused her to be concerned.
In a second call to police, the woman said at least one other parent was growing concerned. She then apologized to the dispatch operator, saying she was likely paranoid.
In body camera video released by the university, police approached the Gray brothers in the student recreation center. The officers pulled the brothers away from the group, and stated that another parent on the tour reported them as suspicious.
After the brothers provided their information, and showed proof of receipt to attend the tour, they were released by police. The brothers were cooperative with police, who let them go without arrest or incident.
Since the incident, CSU has made some changes to the way it conducts campus tours. One of them includes giving tour participants lanyards so they are easily identifiable.
The entire statement from CSU President Frank includes asking the CSU community what they can take away from the experience or how to make the community more just.
A woman who retired from working at CSU in the Office of International Programs started a GoFundMe page for the brothers in hopes of reigniting their dream of attending CSU.
Though she did nothing wrong, tour guide Visani still wrote a letter of apology to the family.
Below, you can read what she shared.
I am contacting you with a very heavy heart because I was the tour guide for your sons when they came to visit us at CSU. I am so sorry for what has happened. I want to be up front with you about the fact that I think you are completely justified in your frustration and anger at this incident. I cannot believe someone on my tour interpreted what your sons “did” (nothing) as suspicious. When they joined my tour, minutes after I left, I was just pleased that they were able to find us. When they didn’t introduce themselves, I responded in the way that I have to countless other teenagers who don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of a group of 20 strangers – with a self-deprecating joke. When I saw police officers in the Student Recreation Center, I noted them because I never want parents or students to worry about their safety and police officers can tend to evoke that concern. I was running somewhat late on my tour schedule getting out of the Rec so was a little flustered and it was my last tour of my senior year, so my emotions were running pretty high. I noticed that our group got smaller but that happens fairly frequently as people have other places to be or are just uninterested in seeing the other stops. These are the only things that I noticed at any point during the tour. I would not and did not see your sons as “suspicious” or anything other than somewhat shy, if that. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about that tour. I didn’t know anything had happened until I got back to the Admissions Office and was made aware of the situation by my supervisors.
I am so sorry that I did not know. I am so sorry that I could not have stopped this from happening. I am frustrated that the mother of the other student didn’t think to let me know that she was calling the police on my tour guests. I would have handled the situation entirely differently because there was no situation to handle – everything your sons said and did was something I’ve seen from many other tour guests over the course of my time in Admissions.
I take my job very seriously. I take my position as a person to welcome students to CSU very seriously. To think that someone felt unwelcome on my tour breaks my heart. This university does everything it can to make students, ALL students, feel welcome. The Office of Admissions certainly does. Our staff is trained to use inclusive language and think about the implications of our actions constantly. When we talk about CSU being a land-grant university and how proud we are of that, we are also reminded that the land was originally taken from the native populations of Colorado. When we talk about bathrooms in the residence halls, we are trained to speak in non-binary about gender. We never refer to groups of people as “you guys” (even though that’s a common colloquial phrase) because males are not the default and dominant gender and shouldn’t be referred to as such. We frequently have conversations in staff meetings and trainings about how to best represent the incredible work that our Student Diversity Programs and Services offices do to include students of every background – the Native American Cultural Center being central to that message. We have difficult conversations about race, privilege, diversity and identity because it’s worth it – even when it’s uncomfortable. We reiterate constantly that everyone is welcome here at CSU and it’s our job to portray that.
So, this situation cuts so deeply for me – because I didn’t know about what was happening and because I take that philosophy of inclusivity at CSU so seriously. But I know it cuts deeper for you and your family. I am so sorry for that. I know that you will probably never feel welcome at CSU and I don’t blame you for feeling that way. I can’t imagine how awful it must be for you and your family to think that you would be unwelcome anywhere. It must bring up feelings of deep hurt from your community and background that I can’t feel wholly because I am not a person of color.
But I DO feel such deep sorrow that you will never know how CSU, at least all of the people I know in the Administration and Admissions and Residence Life and SDPS offices, feels about people of all backgrounds. We welcome and celebrate them. I have been reading your posts and noticed that you said you wished the University had taken a more proactive stance to protect your sons. I wish that too. I wish we could have prevented this from happening. I want to take ownership of that. I wish I had noticed or been informed of what was going on. This would have, I assure you, been handled entirely differently.
I am so FULLY committed with my whole self, on every tour, to making everyone feel welcome. If I was complicit in calling the police, I would own up to it. I know that I have my own biases and privilege. I have had difficult conversations about race and background many times throughout working as an Admissions Ambassador and a student staff member of Residence Life. I would have reflected on my actions honestly and done everything I could to ameliorate the situation. If I had been involved and the same outcome had been reached, I would take ownership of it as a horrible example of something born of my own biases. But, in this case, I was not involved. CSU was not involved. I say that not to excuse us or make you feel invalidated but to do the opposite. To validate your family’s hurt and anger. Because I feel it too – deeply.
I can’t explain fully the actions of the other mother. I have no idea what she was feeling because she didn’t tell me. But I know racism lives and breathes on my campus and in our country. I know that I am so saddened by how your sons were treated because I want everyone on my tour to feel like they’ve stepped into their new home. I am angry that they had to feel unwelcome because of actions I knew nothing about. I am so sorry for that.
I hope that you will try to see my role in this. But you also owe nothing to us. You are validated. And I feel that, even if CSU or myself is implicated, racial injustice is something worth fighting against. Please keep speaking up. Please keep fighting back. For what it’s worth, I am standing with you and I am deeply sorry.
Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help or if you have any questions. I wish this had all gone differently. I hope you have gained at least some comfort or learned something from this letter. I hope I have not said anything to make it worse. I apologize for the length, but my heart is hurting. Please tell your sons that they ARE welcome here, even if they don’t feel like it. I wish them the best of luck in everything they do and know that they will go far, in part because they have a mother who is willing to fight for them.
All the best,
Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.