CSU students respond to blackface photo

Austin Fleskes

After the photo of four Colorado State University students, which quickly became known as the blackface photo, hit campus last week, it became the talk of the student body. Some were appalled, some were unharmed, but all had something to say. 

Leana Kaplan, one of the individuals in the photo, was interviewed by CTV on Monday, and The Collegian has now collected the thoughts and reactions of many of those on campus that were impacted by this photo. 

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In preparation for the normally scheduled Associated Students of CSU meeting Wednesday nights, students spoke with reporters to document their thoughts and feelings about the situation. Everyone was asked the same set of questions:

  1. What are your thoughts on the photo? Were you offended?
  2. Some people have said that they don’t feel safe on campus because of this. Do you feel the same way? 
  3. What are your thoughts on the University’s response? Could they have done anything differently?
  4. How can we, as a University, learn from this experience?
  5. Is there anything else that you want to add? 

Gisele Bair, fourth year journalism major with a minor in ethnic studies

1.”I was offended because I am a Black student on campus. I just find it so appalling. One, Leana Kaplan does not care in her interview at all. Two, I still want to know who the other three people were in that photo, and I want to know who took the photo because they obviously thought it was OK to do that. And three, I just feel like white people don’t care on campus. The ones that are like Leana Kaplan and her friends, they don’t care.”

2. “I do feel unsafe on campus. I know if anything were to happen to me or my friends on campus, we would just be another statistic. Nothing would be done. But if a white student on campus were to be killed or something happened to them, I am pretty sure things would be put in place to beef up security. I know things would be changed because it is just a racial difference.”

3. “Of course, it is just another Tony Frank response. It is an email. In President Joyce McConnell’s email, she realizes the racial connotation of blackface and the history behind it. But yet you’re like ‘I realize what happened, but we can’t do anything because it is her First Amendment right.’ The thing is, I remember when I was a freshman, we had to sign something that said we would abide by the principles of community. We also had to sign the code of conduct which said we would abide by those rules plus CSU’s rules. They violated those, all the people in that photo. And the person that took the photo. I still want to know who they are. In Leana Kaplan’s interview, she talked about how the boys said hurtful things to her, and they literally threw her under the bus. And that is another thing I am mad about because she is the only one taking the brunt of it. The other ones need to be held accountable as well.”

4. “You need to educate yourself on Black and brown people on this campus. You need to talk to Black and brown people on this campus. Read a book about Black and brown people. Don’t just assume things. Don’t use the card of ‘I have Black friends; I can’t be racist.’ Yes, you still can be racist even if you have Black friends. Educate yourself. Just as we need to learn about white history, learn about Black history.”

5. “I would say for prospective CSU students, be careful where you choose to go to school.” 

Kiara Tibbs, third year political science and ethnic studies major 

1. “It was very offensive, and I feel as though there was no remorse for what she had done. Even just watching the video, you could tell the photo came out of hatred and not out of love or brotherhood. It was pure hatred and mockery.”

2. “I don’t necessarily feel unsafe. You can tell there is a lot of tension and a lot of animosity on campus, and it is very uncomfortable, instead of unsafe. I feel unheard of.” 

3. “It is very complicated when you talk about what they can and can’t do in a situation like this. But I was disappointed that we were met with ‘Well it happened. We can’t do anything about it.’ It felt like it was swept under the rug. I feel as if they could have been more proactive in responding.” 

4. “Honestly, as a University, we could learn better situations (on) how to handle racial things. This has been a reoccurring thing that has happened at this school, so I feel as though this is such a big topic around the country. I feel as though this is a learning experience for the University to be more proactive and to really put forth their best effort to combat things like racism, instead of what they did before.”

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5. “Nope, thank you.”

Tanajha Putman, second year human development and family studies 

1. “It was very shocking, just for the simple fact that you wouldn’t think that people still did things like that and that we were progressing by this time by 2019, so it was really shocking. I know it was really hurtful to first year students coming in as well.”

2. “I wouldn’t say I feel unsafe. I know there are probably people that do, but I personally don’t because I do have a community behind me. But there could definitely be a lot of things fixed as well.”

3. “Yes, they could have definitely done a lot. Just for the simple fact that CSU is all about the principles of community, like inclusion, social justice, integrity, and I feel like none of those were followed. There could have been like a class. There could have been a class or something. There are many classes for things like alcohol abuse, things like that. This could have been one of those. And that is one of the things we are pushing for – a class and an assessment for that.”

4. “Our voices should be heard. They should listen and take what we have to say and actually take steps to diversity like teaching and assessing those assignments to us.”

5. “No.”

Yazmine Garcia, second-year sociology and ethnic studies major

1. “I thought it was ignorant, and I thought it was completely disrespectful, not only on the community (but to) students like us, students who are minorities and people of color. It shows that she is very ignorant and clearly just doesn’t know right from wrong.”

2. “I think there is just a lot of tension on campus between everybody. You do feel that energy, and it does make people feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and that is what that photo caused, and that is really unfortunate. I think they should really recognize what they do.”

3. “I just wish they would have done more. The initial email Joyce McConnell let out basically felt like we couldn’t do anything about it. So I think the lack of sympathy that the campus has for their students who take up the minority population has been not all there.”

4. “It just goes to show that we should all speak up when we need to speak up and not let anything slide. Regardless if people claim that they don’t know what they did is wrong, we should take into (account) all of our actions and apologize for them.”

5. “No, thank you.”

Derrick Williams, second-year journalism and media communication major and legal studies minor

1. “I don’t want to start with one side or the other, but it is a bit offensive. Not only to the people it is directed towards, and when I say people, I don’t mean anything degrading, but for most white people, it is like ‘Ha ha ha, that is okay,’ and for most African Americans, it is like ‘That’s not funny.’ As a journalism major, the day they taught us this lesson we learned about blackface and how white people portrayed Black people by just painting their face back in the day. And I just don’t think that is okay. I know the girl and the guys were probably just like ‘Ha ha, whatever,’ but it’s journalism, and if you have credible evidence, you can really create any narrative you want. So you can say you bought the face mask, but we don’t know if that is what happened. Do you have a receipt? So yeah, I do think it was offensive. There is not really any excuse for that, and I don’t think anyone should be killed, but there should be some repercussions.”

2. “I can’t speak for people that are African American who have experienced this and have been affected by the whole blackface thing. But as somebody who does identify as a gay male, I do feel a bit unsafe sometimes on campus. When I transferred here from my two-year college, I transferred here because it was all about diversity and inclusion. And then with these things coming it, it is like, ‘How far behind is the homosexuality discrimination?’ I hate to assume the worst, but with this kind of thing happening and it being 2019, what else could happen?”

3. “As somebody who just came here from a two-year college and was only studying general studies, I have just now started studying my major and minor, and my minor is legal studies and they said she is protected by the First Amendment. And I read the First Amendment and that may ring true, but I just don’t think the University’s actions were that appropriate. I think they did what they felt was necessary to do at the time, but I definitely think there is more to be done and more to be addressed. But, I don’t think it is what it was in the email, which is classes for every student. I know you have to include everyone, but no one in my hall did blackface. We are all aware about equality. This is not the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s. It is not separate but equal; it is equal for all in my eyes. Whoever crafted the email did a pretty good job, but I wasn’t very pleased with it. I understood where they were going, but it wasn’t what I wanted as a response as a student here.”

4. “The only thing I think we can do is seriously address it. And I don’t mean burn someone on the stake like they are a witch. I don’t know the girl who personally did or said any of the things or any of the guys, but I just feel like there is something definitely that we can learn because there have been other incidents in the past that I was not aware of until this incident arose.”

5. “I came to Colorado State University. Like I said many times, it was all about diversity and inclusion. And it is just a little bit unsettling being here, and it is the fourth week and it is unsettling to have these kinds of things happen and to come to meetings to try and advocate to others, and nothing is really being done. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. We will just have to see what the outcome is. But I feel we can definitely learn from this, as there have been many incidents in the past that we should have already learned from even if they were not the exact same thing. We should take a different approach to it instead of dismissing it with the First Amendment. I know it is a constitutional right, but there are so many people on campus who feel inferior to others now, so it is just not okay.” 

Austin Fleskes can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Austinfleskes07.

Editor’s note: During our interviews on Wednesday night, there was a technical mishap on our recordings, and as such, we have lost one of the interviews we conducted. If Amad, the individual spoken to, would still like to be quoted, please email managingeditor@collegian.com and we will be sure to include your thoughts in this piece.