A fake noose was found in Newsom. A wireless network in Durward Hall was renamed “Fuck Jews.” The words, “Hail Hitler” were written on a Jewish student’s door. The incidents may sound like events in a Jim Crow deep south or a pre-World War II Europe, but they’re not. The events happened at Colorado State University, this semester.
In recent weeks, CSU was home to discriminatory events that left students of color and Jewish students feeling vulnerable and unsafe. Only a few days before the beginning of the semester, a makeshift noose was found in Newsom, hung just outside the hall of the only Black resident assistant in the building. Then, in Laurel Village and in Durward, two anti-Semitic incidents were reported by residence life staff.
In response to the noose incident, CSU put on an event titled “The History and Symbolism of Lynching in America,” in which several CSU professors spoke about historical contexts of lynching, and four Black/African American students were asked to speak about racism. After the event, several students voiced their concerns about feeling unsafe and unheard by the CSU faculty, administration and other students.
Additionally, two separate anti-Semitic incidents occurred in on-campus residence halls: one in Durward where a wireless network was renamed “Fuck Jews,” and another in Laurel Village where a Jewish student’s whiteboard was vandalized with the term “Hail Hitler” next to their Star of David decoration.
These events inspired CSU’s chapter of Hillel, an office that strives to create a “home away from home for Jewish students,” according to the director, to organize a march on Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. beginning at the Hillel Sukkah.
The event is designed to show unity as well as “to let the haters know that we are not afraid…” Director of Hillel Alex Amchislavskiy wrote in an email about the event. However, a direct response or messaging from the University has yet to manifest.
Laura Giles, the director of Residence Life, notes that some proactive actions are being taken to ensure that these events are kept to a minimum. One of these actions is promoting CSU’s Principles of Community, which include social justice. She also advocated for discourse and educational moments with students about the impact of their xenophobic actions. Residence Life has also started a “No Place 4 H8” campaign, asking students and staff to pick up posters and hang them in their rooms.
“(It’s designed) to counter the message of hate and bias and to say ‘there is no place for hate,’” Giles said of the campaign.
These programs, as well as the lynching seminar, are both part of the University’s efforts to combat these bias-motivated events from happening. Unfortunately, students were unhappy with the responses.
“(The event) sounded good at first, but then when I got up there, it seemed like we were being used as tokens,” said Elijah Thomas, a sophomore studying sociology who was the target of the noose incident and participated in the student-led portion of the panel at the event. “I totally see why students around campus are pissed.”
The event, put on by the College of Liberal Arts, was put together “In the wake of recent national and local demonstrations of racial intimidation and terrorism,” to raise awareness of the historical context of the fake noose, according to the college’s website. However, as the night went on, students of color began to feel tokenized and alienated. When students called out faculty, asking them how they’ll protect students of color, they encouraged students to vote.
Additionally, the Black/African American Cultural Center was not consulted about the event or asked to provide any content.
As to whether or not he is also upset, Thomas had just one thing to say: “One hundred percent.”
At the end of the event, several students of color stood up to voice concerns about how the event was carried out. They argued it singularized the Black experience, was not action-based and was a poor response to the noose incident.
Djibril Cayolbah, a freshman studying business, and Thomas, were asked by the organizers of the event to have a discussion on racism and lynching with two other students before taking part in a Q&A.
“I was one hundred percent, totally uncomfortable,” Thomas said of being asked to speak on behalf of the Black population at CSU. “But, that’s something I’m willing to put up with to get what I have to say out.”
After what can be considered bias-motivated incidents, several students began to question whether CSU is doing enough to support its marginalized students.
“I believe that CSU has some good resources for students of color,” Thomas said. “But, at the same time, how can you call yourself diverse as a university, but be a predominantly white institution?”
Thomas and Cayolbah cite the suspension of the investigation into the noose incident as primary evidence that students of color are subject to institutional racism at CSU.
The investigation was suspended by the CSU Police Department after two days, and Thomas said he was questioned by authorities for only 15 minutes.
Thomas contrasted this to the peeping incident that occurred last week, in which a notification was immediately sent out to all CSU students and faculty, and the perpetrator was identified as a Black male. The University was legally required to inform students of the peeping incident. But, Thomas said he felt recent events targeting students of color should have been reported by the University as well.
Though CSU has a Black/African-American Cultural Center and campus groups like Africans-United, which Thomas cited as helping him to find peace, Thomas and Cayolbah said resources for students of color are lacking.
Cayolbah said he has noticed a disconnect between CSU and how it supports its students of color.
“We do have a few resources for students of color,” Cayolbah said. “But also, I feel that these resources are not supported by CSU. Period.”
But, it’s not just the University as a whole that students are feeling unsupported by. Students like Thomas have been watching CSU President Tony Frank very closely, waiting for an outright condemnation of the incidents.
In an interview in with The Collegian in August, Frank responded to the noose incident. He said the racist behavior isn’t tolerated while also openly advocating for discourse and free speech, and suggested he’d defend a student’s right to free speech in this instance.
“All I have to say about Dr. Frank is that actions speak louder than words,” Thomas said. “When he came to Newsom and spoke with the residents, it didn’t mean much because it didn’t change anything.”
This relates to another complaint that students have when it comes to a lack of support for people of diverse populations: Events put on by the University are often education- or discourse-based, rather than action based.
“We were just sitting there having a conversation,” Cayolbah said. “Whereas, we should have been acting and doing something organized.”
Thomas also had an idea how to solve the problem of racism on campus: integrate more people of color.
“It’s simple,” Thomas said. “For example, if we had more professors of color, I’d be more likely to go to their office hours.”
Thomas also suggested pursuing students from low-income neighborhoods.
Professor Joon Kim, the chair of the ethnic studies department and a speaker at the lynching seminar, echoed these sentiments.
“I am unsure if the University is doing its best to support students of color on this campus,” Kim said. “…I do believe that the University could do more to increase racial diversity on this campus.”
Ann Little, a professor in the history department who also spoke at the lynching seminar, shared similar thoughts around the lack of support.
“Historically white colleges and universities need to really think about what it means to serve all of our students,” Little said. “There’s always more that historically white institutions can do for students of color.”
Thomas said the best support he can ask for from his classmates right now is to attend his meeting with Frank. On Monday at 4 p.m., the LSC Grand Ballroom will be open for students to show support for Thomas while he discusses a course of action with Tony Frank. However, Thomas emphasized that students should only come if they support his cause.
“Coming just to get extra credit for a class defeats the purpose,” Thomas said. “Then they’re only doing it for themselves.”
Additionally, students can show support for CSU’s Jewish population by viewing and honoring the march from Hillel’s Sukkah through the LSC to the Sukkah placed on campus. Students marching will wear symbols of Jewish pride to show unity.
Collegian reporter Nate Day can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NateMDay.