A recent history of First Amendment conflicts on campus


(Graphic Illustration by Charles Cohen | The Collegian)

Austria Cohn, News Reporter

Colorado State University has experienced many freedom of speech issues in which the administration’s decision for action did not sit well with students.

Below are some of the most controversial freedom of speech incidents that happened on campus from 2018 until now. This list is based on the most controversial stories published by The Collegian.


Students wearing charcoal face masks pose in a Snapchat photo Sept. 11, 2019. (Collegian file photo)

CSU students pose in blackface

In September 2019, four CSU students posted a photo on Snapchat with black charcoal face masks on while doing a pose from “Black Panther.” The photo was captioned “Wakanda forevaa.”

The history of blackface is deeply rooted in racism, as white performers in the 1800s darkened their skin and acted in ways that perpetuated negative stereotypes of Black people

The University did not take any legal action against the students, claiming it would impede on their First Amendment rights.

“We also affirm that personal social media accounts are not under our jurisdiction,” CSU President Joyce McConnell wrote in an email. “Our community members — students, faculty and staff — can generally post whatever they wish to post on their personal online accounts in accordance with their First Amendment rights.”

Many students spoke out about the post and shared their experiences with racism on campus.

There’s a timeline of this event on The Collegian‘s website along with an exclusive interview with Leana Kaplan, who was one of the four individuals in the photo.

CSU student expelled after racist social media posting

In 2020, CSU was made aware that an incoming freshman, Neal Van Houten, was posting racial threats on social media.

“I am disgusted and angry that any member of our community would think such things, let alone think it acceptable to use their violent words publicly as weapons,” McConnell wrote in a Facebook post.

CSU tweeted, “Due to the violent and threatening nature of the language used, this post moved beyond the protections of the First Amendment.”

According to a Collegian article published in 2020, this was the first time the University expelled a student because of racist social media posts.


Representative of the Lakota Tribe Liz Bunya holds a sign as she protests the Turning Point USA Culture Wars event hosted by Charlie Kirk with special guest Donald Trump Jr. at the Colorado State University Center for the Arts Oct. 22, 2019. (Collegian | Matt Tackett)

Charlie Kirk’s appearances on campus

Charlie Kirk is considered a conservative activist, and he made two appearances at CSU: as a speaker in 2018 and as part of a “Culture War” event in 2019. Donald Trump Jr. was his guest, and the two discussed political values and views along with socialist ideas. Both years, protesters and counterprotesters showed up.

“Throughout the night, counterprotesters were heard yelling, ‘Jews will not replace us’ and were seen making the ‘Heil Hitler’ sign,” according to a Collegian article that was written about the 2018 event.

“Authorities armed with riot gear and a canine unit” were present to disperse the groups, the same Collegian article states.

There is a gallery of photos from the 2019 event on the Collegian website.

Students rally on The Plaza to protest a religious preacher’s message against the LGBTQ+ community Sept. 7, 2021. (Collegian | Tri Duong)

Preachers speak on campus

One of the most recent controversies that happened at CSU was in September 2021, with two preachers in heated arguments with students. This took place over the span of two days near the Lory Student Center.

Though this was not the first time The Plaza saw preachers, it was one of the few times a group of this magnitude formed around them.

“I see myself as a Christian, but I’m also pansexual,” CSU student Nancy Kahdeman told The Collegian at the time of the event. “I believe that God is full of love and loves everybody, and this man is preaching nothing but bigotry and hate.”

The University did not take action against the preachers, but McConnell sent out an email addressing the incident.

“Even when hateful speech is legally protected, I urge everyone at CSU to use their First Amendment rights to counter speech that diminishes any member of our community,” McConnell wrote in an email.

The Associated Students of Colorado State University senate votes Senator Koby Peters to leave the premises from a meeting after arriving in blackface Oct. 30, 2019. (Collegian | Nathan Tran)

The Associated Students of Colorado State University remove Black senator wearing blackface from session

In October 2019, senators showed up to the Associated Students of Colorado State University chambers in costumes, including Senator Koby Peters, who attended the meeting wearing “Canadian flags, a wig and black paint on his face,” according to a Collegian article.

According to a statement Peters gave to The Collegian, the costume was “intended to incite anger over the reelection of Canadian (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau, who recently (faced) public criticism over a recently uncovered photo of him in blackface.”

The ASCSU senate voted to remove Peters from the chambers.

“In order to make a change, we must be controversial,” Peters said in a prepared statement. “My choice of costume was intended to create conversation and to break down racial barriers, and the best way to do that is through comedic relief.”

Reach Austria Cohn at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @AustriaCohn.