Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.
When I first joined Colorado State University in 2000, I was a young, freshly-minted Assistant Professor. My primary responsibility at the time was to teach an undergraduate course on race relations, and a few other courses through the Center for Applied Studies in American Ethnicity (CASAE), an interdisciplinary unit that was created in the early-1990s with the academic mission to “describe and analyze the characteristics of America’s multi-ethnic environment, and to offer the results of such investigation as application in the delivery of social services and in public policy changes.”
I remember vividly the move to Fort Collins from Berkeley, CA, with my spouse and a two-year-old daughter, settling in a new town and a new university. I also recall the first days of classes standing before a sea of students with a microphone pinned to my newly-ironed shirt. I was nervous, very, but I also trusted the training I received would carry me through the difficult moments.
In the first few weeks into the fall semester, I experienced my first difficult incident for which none of my mentors or colleagues prepared me. It was an early-morning. I was going into my office, and I encountered a department colleague who was frantically trying to enter my office, and, in his hand, he held a piece of white paper, crumbled, and he ran toward a bathroom covering his mouth with his other hand. I learned later that day someone had slipped underneath the faculty office doors a 4×6 paper with a black-and-white drawing of a hangman on a noose that was quite frighteningly reminiscent of a lynched body. In that same semester, I received a handwritten note on the backside of an exam sheet, stating “this course is of no relevance to me since I do not condone or practice discrimination.” I realized then that I had my work cut out for me. That is, the work would involve not just application of my knowledge on the subject matter, but it would require all of my emotional and mental energy. While these events do not define my career at CSU, they nonetheless left a deep, irrevocable scar that cannot be erased.
Last week, in Newsom Hall at CSU, someone took pains to make a noose out of crepe paper and hung it glaringly by the entrance of the dorm floor where the only African American male, who is also a resident assistant, resides. Shortly thereafter, President Tony Frank and Vice President of Student Affairs Blanche Hughes denounced the act in an all-hall meeting. The University leadership moved swiftly, calling it a cowardly act, especially since the perpetrator was not brazen enough to come forward and stand behind what it represents. This was not just a random event by a misguided individual. In the past two years alone, similar acts of intimidation had occurred from coast to coast in major universities, including Duke, University of Maryland, American, Columbia, and the University of California at San Diego and Berkeley. Personally, this incident was deeply troubling not only because it occurred within days of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, North Carolina, where, cloaked under the cover of free speech, the symbols of racial and religious hatred so openly and prominently paraded through the towns, but also because we often lose sight of the long lasting impact it has on persons who study and work at this institution.
Our focus should not be about who is responsible behind the reprehensible act, whether the perpetrator has the right under the First Amendment of the Constitution to express hate, nor even what can be done to prevent something like this from happening again. Our focus should be on the people who will go home tonight with a heavy heart and must return to this community where they must find the strength once again to believe that things will get better.
Joon K. Kim,
Professor and Chair, Department of Ethnic Studies
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