FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) — It was a packed house Wednesday night at Colorado State University. A meeting on race relations drew so many people, not everyone could get in.
One source of frustration is a social media post from a group of white students in blackface with the caption “Wakanda forevaa” – a reference to the movie Black Panther. But students say this is just the latest in a series of incidents.
Students were very outspoken at that meeting — some even coming from neighboring schools to support them.
Their message was clear — they don’t want officials just talking about change, they want to see some change.
Thousands of students say they’ve felt — and witnessed — the pain of racism for too long.
When the university’s president, Joyce McConnell, said a photo of four white freshmen in blackface didn’t violate school policies and was protected under free speech, numerous students claimed she was supporting racists.
“I have felt targeted, ridiculed, unwelcome and isolated for being a woman of color,” one student told the group.
“There have been people called the N-word, been spit on, had things thrown at them. People won’t even walk their way because they look different,” another said.
“This has been building up for four years of CSU being complicit, hiding behind freedom of speech, and CSU not doing anything to show students of color and show marginalized identities that they care for us,” another said.
“The only way we can overcome the pain, the sorrow is through forgiveness, and it’s not for them, it’s for us,” another said.
It was a passionate discussion — and not everyone agreed. One young woman said students just need to get thicker skin.
“Hate speech is included in free speech. I’m sorry, but you have to get a thicker skin some time,” she said.
President McConnell was at the meeting and spoke briefly, saying it was a tumultuous time, especially since she’s only been president for 80 days. She said she hopes these challenging times make CSU a better place overall.
Last week, McConnell sent a message 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.