While over 7,850 students were moving to campus last Wednesday, signs containing phrases such as “Thank you for sending us your daughters,” were displayed at several houses along Laurel Street.
The Women and Gender Advocacy Center combated these signs with a counter-protest.
“These signs reflect what we are trying to fight,” said Carl Olsen, WGAC program coordinator.
For many incoming students, these signs along Laurel were among their first impressions of CSU.
“When that’s the first thing you see, it represents CSU, Fort Collins and it tells them that sexual violence isn’t taken seriously,” said Whitney Gustafson, member of the Red Whistle Brigade and third year student.
Gustafson said that at least four houses on Laurel Street were displaying signs that members of the WGAC called “problematic.” Several residence halls are located on Laurel Street, including Corbett, Laurel Village, Westfall, Durward and Allison.
Olsen said that while the signs that were displayed along Laurel Street do not cause violence, they support the culture that surrounds it.
“This has been an ongoing (issue) every year and last year it came to our attention more,” Olsen said. “Last fall, other universities were gathering attention for similar signs.”
Members of WGAC, the Red Whistle Brigade and Men in the Movement went door-to-door last week to ask residents for their support in protesting the signs that were expected. The protesters asked for residents to refrain from putting up signs along Laurel that could potentially be harmful to students.
“This is hugely problematic for our first year students as they come in,” WGAC Director Monica Rivera said.
The protesters approached sign holders throughout the day and received mixed reactions. Some residents took their signs down, while others refused.
“I think it’s an attempt to welcome people into the University without realizing the harm it could be,” Olsen said.
Members of the WGAC said that the signs could trigger sexual assault victims.
Over 60 percent of incoming students living in the residence halls reported that they have been a victim of sexual violence or know someone who has, according to an annual WGAC freshman survey.
Kevin Cabrera, Men in the Movement member and sophomore student, said move-in day was “pretty intense.” Cabrera said that interactions between groups were different: some sign owners were easy to engage with in conversation, and others had a “good amount of pushback.”
Some police officers became involved during the protests, and at least one officer spoke to residents about their signs. However, there is no law in Fort Collins that requires residents to take the signs down.
“(The police presence was a) really cool community effort to address the issue,” said Olsen, “We felt really good doing our part and… we let students moving in know that they were supported.”
Some students displaying signs responded to the protesters by saying “I don’t see the harm,” and “It’s just a joke.” While no physical violence occurred, threats were made against the protesters. Some protesters reported that they were threatened with physical violence if they crossed on to the residents’ property.
“Knowing how high the stakes are, if the intent of these signs were to welcome students, there is a better way to do it,” Olsen said.
People who were holding or displaying the signs took them down while protesters were present, but Gustafson said that the signs were put back up moments after members of the WGAC left.
“People aren’t taking (sexual violence) seriously, all of these jokes have impact that lead to violence.” Gustafson said. “(Students) know whose side they’re on when they see that.”
Cabrera said that, following the protest, students have approached the WGAC for resources and support in response to the signs.
This was the first year protesters were present for move-in day, though controversial signs have been present in the past.
“Without a doubt, we know that those views expressed are not what a majority of students feel,” Olsen said.
Olsen said the WGAC hopes to make “The Principles of Community” available to all students to help establish a welcoming environment. “The Principles of Community” is a 200-word document that outlines the principles of how the CSU community treats one another.
“I definitely feel like we made a difference that day,” Cabrera said following the protest.