Thousands take to CSU campus in demonstration against hate, “bias-motivated incidents”

Daniela Navarro and Meagan Stackpool

Video by Erica Giesenhagen

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Nota del Editor: El Collegian está empezando una sección para nuestros lectores que hablan Español. Articulos en Español va a estar en linea y en la impresión. Encontrar la versión original en Ingles aqui. Traducido por Daniela Navarro.

More than 2,500 people gathered on CSU’s campus Thursday afternoon in a demonstration of support for students affected by the racially-motivated incidents that occurred on campus between August and the spring semester. 

people on a plaza
Students, faculty and administrators gather on the CSU plaza Thursday afternoon for CSUnite. (Field Peterson | Collegian)

The crowd of CSU students, faculty and administration gathered to walk across campus from Newton’s Corner to the Lory Student Center Plaza for CSUnite, a university-sanctioned rally and demonstration intended to be a university-wide response to the rise in bias-motivated incidents on campus.

Beginning with a fake noose in Newsom Hall in August before classes began, and including incidents of anti-semitic messages in residence halls across campus, the campus has seen a rise in incidents of white supremacy. Most recently, flyers from white supremacist groups were found in academic buildings on campus. Since August, students have asked for the CSU administration to have a swifter and stronger response to the incidents. 

The event began with a speakers at Newton’s Corner, and then participants walked to the Plaza. At the Plaza on stage, a small selection of students from the University Center for the Arts performed as participants gathered. Albert Bimper Jr., the senior director for Ethnic Studies and the associate athletic director, and Anarely Marquez-Gomez, a third year undocumented student on Tony Frank’s student advisory board, delivered opening remarks.

“Being here today is not going to change anything,” Marquez-Gomez said. “It is about more than just today. It is about challenging those who have brought hate onto our campus. Not theirs, ours.”

After opening remarks, Blanche Hughes, the vice president for student affairs, and Mary Ontiveros, the vice president for diversity, shared personal stories. But after a few speakers, the program was interrupted. Students Against White Supremacy, a coalition of students protesting white supremacy, took the stage to call out both the CSU administration for not calling “bias-motivated incidents” white supremacy, and condemned a campus conservative group, the CSU chapter of Turning Point USA. 

“Bias-related incidents are acts of white supremacy and they need to be labeled as so,” said Erica LaFehr, one of the students in SAWS. “The University made the choice to do nothing despite their power to make real change.”

The group directly accused Turning Point USA, a national organization with a local chapter on campus, of white supremacist rhetoric, and said they would not “unite” at the same event with the group. Turning Point USA recently hosted its founder, Charlie Kirk, on the CSU campus, sparking protests and counter-protests by antifa and white supremacists, respectively. The CSU chapter of Turning Point USA endorsed CSUnite in a letter to the editor earlier this week.

“Therefore, there will be no false flags of unity with students who perpetuate white supremacy and we demand for the removal of the Turning Point USA chapter from CSU’s campus if the administration is truly committed to an inclusive and safe environment from all students,” LaFehr said. 

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After the interruption, the program appeared to go on as planned. CSU President Tony Frank took the stage immediately following the demonstration, while the students then marched off while chanting, “No Nazis, no KKK, no TPUSA.”

“We have all heard the saying, ‘silence is golden,’ but it does not apply when dealing with hate,” Frank said during his speech.

TPUSA at CSU responded to SAWS’ public denouncement of their organization. 

“Turning Point USA at CSU is deeply saddened and disturbed that organizations like Students Against White Supremacy used the unifying platform of CSUnite, an event organized to bring our campus together in the face of hate, to spread false statements about our organization,” wrote Isabel Brown, the TPUSA chapter president, in an email to The Collegian. “Turning Point USA at CSU stands for the two pillars of limited government and free markets—no more, no less—and we invite any student who may disagree with our organization to engage in productive dialogue with our student leaders moving forward.”

SAWS speaking at the event was not planned by the university. Other students said they supported their message.

“Sometimes the most necessary things to say seem abrasive, but they need to be put out there,” said Marina Dart, a senior biology major. 

We have all heard the saying, ‘silence is golden,’ but it does not apply when dealing with hate,” -Tony Frank, University president.

In an interview with The Collegian, Frank spoke of the conversations happening on campus. 

“I imagine that there will be a lot of discussions that will keep going on across campus and that’s a good thing,” Frank said. “I think this is one where there’s a lot of great stuff going on from the grassroots and I want to support all of that.”

CSUnite was not localized to Fort Collins. CSU Extension members all across the state showed their support. A program of partner organizations “uniting” for CAKE decorating decorated cookies to show solidarity with the CSUnite movement. 

Contrary to some of the criticism faced by the administration, other students said they were glad to see the university organize a show of support. CSU Academic Advisor Carla Barela said she attended due to Tony Frank’s transparency surrounding bias-related incidents. 

“We know that it’s not just our campus,” Barela said. “He’s being honest in sharing that and validating what so many people, student, faculty and staff experience when they’re exposed to that type of hate.”

One of the first speakers, Vance Payne, a senior mechanical engineering student, expressed how he wants the community to proceed forward following CSUnite, and what his vision campus is.

“We have to be so unapologetically anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist that it makes you uncomfortable,” Payne said. “

Cole Wise, the vice president of the Associated Students of CSU, explained why CSUnite was such an important event. 

“I think this is a bigger issue than just CSU,” Wise said. “I think this is a bigger issue than Fort Collins, in general, I think we are saying this is a national issue, but we are doing our part. Our part is calling it CSUnite and uniting together, walking to stand together as one.”

Collegian reporters Meagan Stackpool and Daniela Navarro can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.