A recent demonstration held on the Colorado State University campus has sparked a conversation on social justice, including some expressions of dissatisfaction that the University administration supported the demonstration.
At the event Monday, CSU community members stood in solidarity to recognize the recent events happening at the University of Missouri. Students displayed the messages, “CSU stands with Mizzou,” and “Black Students Matter.”
When CSU showed support for the protest on social media, hundreds of alumni and Fort Collins residents responded, some expressing satisfaction and some frustration with the University’s involvement. Some alumni commented and said they would pull their donations.
The University has since stated that it stands by its actions.
“Our community becomes stronger when we listen and learn from one another’s experience,” CSU President Tony Frank wrote in a statement. “That some have chosen to denigrate these events on social media is disappointing, but it also illustrates why commitments to free speech, diversity and education are so important.”
Reactions of CSU alumni and Fort Collins community
Alumna Trish Sohle graduated from CSU Global this year. She commented on CSU’s post that the protest was counterproductive. She told the Collegian that the demonstration would have been more productive if students assembled in front of lawmakers and policymakers, who she said have a direct ability to influence how these matters are handled.
Another alumna, Christine M., said she did not receive the demonstration well because associating CSU with what happened at the University of Missouri is like “comparing apples to oranges.”
“Colorado State has a good track record in that we are not Mizzou,” she said. “I think listening to black students at Colorado State is important. … But, to associate us with what went on at Mizzou, nobody knows exactly what happened at Mizzou. … I am not hearing about that at all at CSU.”
During an interview with KCSU Tuesday, sophomore social work student Zell Moore said Monday’s demonstration seemed male-dominated. She also said there is no female representation in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We acknowledge the impact of our lack of representation of women of color and other examples of intersectionality,” said Ricky Herz, a junior social work major who organized the demonstration. “We take this as a lesson for potential future demonstrations, and unfortunately, that lesson was at the expense of some people.”
The Black Lives Matter movement being male-dominated highlights the need for there to be a more inclusive and intersectional way of approaching questions of oppression, said Cori Wong, Ph.D. She is the director of the President’s Women and Gender Initiative, as well as an instructor in the Ethnic Studies Department. Wong said she supports the students rallying in Monday’s demonstration.
Others said one-on-one dialogue is more effective than communicating messages through a group. Erik Bogdanowicz grew up in Fort Collins and he said he does not support the demonstration.
Bogdanowicz commented on the CSU Facebook photo, which resulted in a conversation that was furthered by a student reaching out and messaging him.
“The demonstration and others like it are doing nothing but dividing people,” Bogdanowicz said. “I don’t see anything good coming out of this. I see it as just divisive. It is not a demonstration that is trying to bring somebody together. It’s, ‘here’s what I want, here’s what I’m standing for, you deal with it.'”
Those who organized the demonstration presented a list of recommendations to University administration. The suggestions included implementing ethnic and women’s studies courses into the All University Core Curriculum, making a task force of diverse stakeholders to create a strategic plan and present potential changes, encouraging mental health programs to provide mentoring and counseling around race, maintaining and improving the graduation rates of athletes of color and changing the culture around language at CSU.
Video by Sierra Cymes, CTV 11.
CSU administration stands by its support
In a statement made to the Collegian, Executive Director of Public Affairs and Communications Mike Hooker wrote that the University always considers how its actions will be received. He wrote that sometimes, decisions must be made about topics that not everybody will agree on.
“Our CSU community encompasses hundreds of thousands of people, and there will always be different viewpoints and perspectives — that’s the freedom of speech we celebrate,” Hooker wrote.
Diversity is one of the University’s core values that it always tries to believe in and act on, Hooker wrote.
“The University wanted to support our students and the issues they were trying to shed light on. Ultimately though, regardless of potential reactions, we have to stand for what we believe represents the mission of the university: in this case the balance between free speech and an environment conducive to the exercise of free speech.”
Regarding potential donations being retracted due to the University showing support for the demonstration Monday, Hooker wrote that this does not appear to be a major issue with long-standing donors.
“We have heard from a small number of donors raising concerns, and others expressing support; while every donation matters, the numbers involved do not represent a significant impact to Colorado State University’s on-going budget. The University often has to make to make decisions that may not be popular with every donor. When making decisions, we have to set all that aside and do what we believe is the right thing for the university.”
Creating Social Change
Darrie Burrage, associate director of learning programs in The Institute for Learning and Teaching, said events happening at other universities can often have tremendous effects on the CSU community.
Burrage raised the following questions: What is our culture at CSU around freedom of speech? What is our culture around social movements? Are students scared to participate?
Christine M. said racial inequality is present not only in the university setting, but in the workplace, the government and all around the world. She served on the Victim Assistance Team at CSU, was a member of the Sexual Assault and Victim Advocate Center and was appointed to the Task Force for the Status of Women, appointed by former CSU President Albert Yates. She said CSU offices and other resources should be used, such as the Office of the Ombuds and Employee Assistance Program, the Office of Equal Opportunity, deans of individual colleges and the University police.
A student who helped organize the demonstration, Kwon Yearby, said having Frank stand in solidarity with those Monday shows that CSU is far different from other institutions.
“We can lead the discussion on how to deal with racial relations and how to fix racial tensions,” Yearby said. “It is important to recognize it took bravery and boldness (for the administration to stand in solidarity) … there would have been support in dominant parts if they would have stayed inside, but they chose to come out and stand with us and it speaks volumes.”
Photos by Ryan Arb.
Creating a Conversation at Colorado State
The environment at CSU is an exciting one, Wong said.
“Its not just us at CSU, we are picking up on some of the national energy and momentum that has been developing,” said Wong, who participated in the demonstration Monday. “The conversations are opening up in a way that could be productive, but it could be scary (or uncomfortable for some) because it might actually bring to light certain realities (of everyday racism).”
Conversations that are not just centered around race are starting on campus, said Vance Payne, a sophomore engineering student who helped organize Monday’s demonstration. He said all identities are welcome to join the conversations about gender equality, hyper masculinity, racial tensions and countless other social justice issues.
Although negative comments toward the rally are protected under free speech, Wong said she believes the University is in a position to take a stand against hateful, hostile, racist or discriminatory speech that tries to dismiss productive dialogues started by students who are trying to rally.
“If you can step out of your comfort zone and have those conversations with people and learn about what people have had to deal with … that’s when the world becomes a better place,” said Isaiah Martin, a sophomore zoology student who also organized the demonstration.
Collegian News Editor Christina Vessa can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ChrissyVessa.