FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– This week marks 100 days since Colorado State University’s President Joyce McConnell took over. She has faced some unexpected hurdles and as a result, is making sure CSU continues to talk about cultural changes.
“One of the things that’s always difficult on a university campus, is every year, you’re integrating 5,000 to 6,000 new students, who maybe you achieve some cultural change with,” said McConnell.
McConnell, a former provost at West Virginia University, is no stranger to racial bias but she did not expect to experience it within her first week on the job.
CSU made national headlines 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 – went viral.
“I knew that it was possible that there would be events that were displays or expressions of racism that we all find reprehensible. It’s surprised me here because maybe I idealized the environment too much and so having it here, within the first five days of our students arriving on campus, did come as a wake-up call to me.”
McConnell later faced backlash when she informed students that the freshmen in blackface didn’t violate school policies and were protected under free speech.
It was not an ideal way to spend her first week but she turned it into a more aggressive approach to educate students about cultural changes.
“One of the things I figured out, that I’m starting to do, is ask all of my vice presidents, ‘What’s going on in your unit? What do you think is working? What do you think isn’t working? What do you think we could do differently that would have impact?’”
She is also working on a racial bias equity initiative. It’s part of McConnell’s larger vision.
“We’re looking at everything. Conditions for employees, academic excellence, the services we provide our students, the level of research that’s going on. This year we reached almost $400 million in research expenditures which is a great leap forward for this institution.”
She knew the position would be a challenge and despite the hurdles, says her passion will always push her forward.
“Anyone who wants to be president knows you’re going to be really busy, you have to have great endurance and I think it helps to have a great sense of optimism and a belief in the fundamental goodness of people and that’s who I am. “