Editor’s note: Students who participated publicly in the forum did not wish to be identified, so the Collegian refrained from publishing last names.
Nearly 70 students dressed in black silently lined the northern-most hall of the Lory Student Center Monday afternoon waiting for Colorado State University President Tony Frank.
Students stood in solidarity for Elijah Thomas, a resident assistant who found a fake noose hanging outside his hallway in Newsom Hall a few days before classes started. Frank was scheduled to address Thomas and other students of color regarding his administration’s response to the incident, which has been highly criticized.
When Frank arrived, he passed through the line of demonstrators without a noise. A few minutes later, Thomas followed to a closed-door meeting with Frank and Vice President of Student Affairs Blanche Hughes. After a nearly 45-minute meeting, the three came back to welcome students into the ballroom for an open discussion. The room was originally set up with chairs lined in rows for a forum. Frank, Thomas and Hughes encouraged attendees to rearrange the room into a circle for a discussion.
— Erin Douglas (@erinmdouglas23) October 9, 2017
Students brought up several issues regarding Thomas’ experience, as well as several other bias-motivated incidents—their largest concern being student safety.
“How are students that are targeted by (events like these) going to be protected?” asked Courtney, who did not identify her last name. “It’s a safety issue at the end of the day.”
Students shared fears that racially-biased incidents were not taken seriously.
“I don’t think it does a service to treat passive acts of violence as empty threats,” added Courtney.
While students and faculty alike acknowledged that answers to their questions cannot necessarily be given immediately, Frank responded by pointing to different initiatives the University is pursuing to respond to the concerns.
Frank explained that his administration is looking into increasing the number of security cameras around campus because they are a tool police can use to catch offenders more easily when there are no other leads in the investigation.
Similarly, Mary Ontiveros, vice president for diversity, explained that her team is partnering with ‘Tell Someone’ in order to track bias-motivated incidents on campus so that they can find out what is happening, and address the situation as quickly as they possibly can.
In response to this, some students said it seems the University and Residence Life have no clear plan of action for when these types of events occur.
Laura Giles, the director of Residence Life, explained why that seems to be the case.
“We do have a hate- and bias-motivated incident protocol within the residence halls,” Giles said. “But, what we don’t necessarily have is somebody that we have caught.”
Students and faculty also addressed several other issues surrounding the methods through which the University addresses race relations, such as the rhetoric used in Frank’s emails, normalization of bias-motivated events on campus and a lack of administrative transparency.
One of the areas that came under the heaviest fire was the law enforcement surrounding the noose incident.
“In other cases with physical action and violence, those people were caught right away,” Djibril said. “Why was this investigation halted in particular?”
Another student, who works with freshmen in dorms echoed Djibril’s concerns, saying “The fact that I can’t tell them that everything is okay is frustrating.”
Scott Harris, the chief of CSU’s Police Department, responded that there were no “investigatable leads” found. Additionally, he said the incident did not rise to the legal threshold necessary to be classified as a criminal act. He told the group that if new information were to come up, the case would be pursued.
— Tatiana (@TatianaSophiaPT) October 9, 2017
Throughout the conversation, Frank and Hughes listened to students and acknowledged misjudgments, in particular, not announcing the bias-motivated events publicly as soon as they happened.
Frank expressed regret in the speed of his responses, attributing the system he works with.
“I should have stepped out of that system,” Frank said.
Several students reminded the forum that even if the administration is trying to support its students of color, it does not feel like the rest of campus is.
“…It’s not just an issue for the Black community anymore,” one student, who did not wish to be identified, said at the end of the forum. “White people think it’s a joke.”