By Kelly Werthmann

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – The president of Colorado State University is calling on students and faculty to propose initiatives that could help combat racism on campus. This comes after a social media post showing four CSU students in blackface with arms crossed with the caption “Wakanda forevaa” – a reference to the movie Black Panther – has gone viral.

csu blackface joyce mcconnell

(credit: CBS)

READ MORE: Colorado Weather: Tuesday Storm May Fizzle Out For The Denver Metro

“I felt sick honestly,” De’Janay Smith, a junior at CSU, said. “My heart dropped.”

Many of Smith’s fellow students also cringed at the racist picture and are furious with the university’s response.

“It’s humiliating,” Daizha Brown explained. “It wasn’t addressed properly. Nothing happened and that’s the problem.”

Last Tuesday, CSU President Joyce McConnell sent a message to students and faculty explaining that the photo did not violate university rules and the First Amendment prohibits any university from taking action against those in the photo.

csu blackface joyce mcconnell

(credit: CTV)

Angered students took their frustration to the school’s plaza, using chalk to call for change. Some messages read, “ADMIN – JOYCE MCCONNELL, DO SOMETHING,” and, “ADMIN – STOP PROTECTING RACISTS.”

“Unfortunately the next morning those messages were erased,” Brown told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “I guess it was staff that did it. They took water and erased all the messages that students wrote on the sidewalk.”

csu blackface joyce mcconnell

(credit: CTV)

It’s one of several instances, sophomore Tanazha Putnam said, of minority students’ concerns being ignored.

READ MORE: Firefighters Responding To The West Ranch Fire In Jefferson County

“We’re looked at like we’re doing too much or we’re being over dramatic,” she said. “Whenever I would say something, it was swept under the rug like I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Putnam said many of her classmates feel as if their voices don’t matter, even in the classroom.

“When you talk to other students of color, a lot of them have these same experiences,” she explained. “A lot of them will tell you, ‘I sit in the back of the class. I don’t feel comfortable raising my hand or speaking.’”

csu blackface joyce mcconnell

(credit: CBS)

Smith said it is a stressful feeling.

“We come here to get our education, to be in an environment where we feel safe,” she said. “If we don’t feel safe enough to speak up in a classroom, then that’s a serious issue.”

President McConnell sent another message on Friday, this time asking for students and faculty to help combat racism in the community. She said she will lead the work that must be done together to stand against racism. Her message read in part:

Those impacted by these incidents tell us they have not felt heard, respected, or healed by our response so far. Here are some immediate actions we will take to deepen our understanding of the dynamics of racism, the damage it does to our community, and how we can fight it together.

  • Fund Student-Led Initiatives: In the next few weeks, we will call for formal proposals from students for implementable initiatives to combat racism at CSU.
  • Fund Faculty/Staff-Led Initiatives: In the next few weeks, we will call for formal proposals from faculty and staff for implementable initiatives to combat racism at CSU.
  • Student Conduct Code discussions: This semester, we will invite all CSU students to participate in open discussions about the CSU Student Conduct Code: what it is, what conduct it covers, where the First Amendment intersects with the code, and other questions.
  • Diversity Symposium Event: I am already planning to sit down with our Vice President for Diversity, Vice President Mary Ontiveros, for a candid conversation, Wednesday, October 16, 2019 at the LSC. Our conversation will focus on how we can work together to truly address racism on our campus.  Our conversation will be part of the upcoming campus-wide Diversity Symposium (October 14-18), which features extensive, dynamic programming, including keynote speaker Kimberlé Crenshaw.  We urge all campus community members to attend the Symposium.
  • Candid Conversations: In October, I will invite all of our students of color to a candid conversation with me, Vice President Ontiveros, and Dr. Blanche Hughes, Vice President for Student Affairs. On October 31, all our students are invited to an Open Forum conversation with me.

Brown said McConnell’s message is a step in the right direction, but she wants to see the talk turn into action.

“We need to combat this in a way that will hold students accountable,” she said.

Putnam agreed the efforts to collect ideas for implementable initiatives is a nice move by the president, so long as student voices are truly heard.

MORE NEWS: Some Evacuations Ordered For Miners Candle Fire Near Dumont

“It’s just on their part to actually listen at this point,” she said.

Kelly Werthmann