LTTE: CSU, Collegian improperly handled the blackface Snapchat

Guest Author

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. Letters to the Editor reflect the view of a member of the campus community and are submitted to the publication for approval.

Dear editor,

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On Sept. 10, Colorado State University President Joyce McConnell authored an email with Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes and Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros responding to a Snapchat of students in mud face masks, doing the “Wakanda forever” pose from Marvel’s “Black Panther.”

CSU students and the University appropriately acknowledged that these students were in blackface. According the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, blackface was a part of minstrel shows, where white actors would paint their faces to look Black and portrayed stereotypes of Black people. These performances often characterized Black people as “lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual and prone to thievery and cowardice.”

The University’s opportunity to prevent incidents like this from happening again stopped there. Even with the second email sent on Friday, it still seemed like the University wasn’t taking the incident seriously.

Many students were rightfully upset that the University failed to act and stated that students’ personal social media is not under the jurisdiction of the University.

“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,” the initial email stated. “This recent post runs counter to our principles of community, but it does not violate any CSU rule or regulation, and the First Amendment prohibits the University from taking any punitive action against those in the photo.”

In essence, the students in the photo received a mere slap on the wrist — if that.

Emails from our CSU presidents about racist incidents are becoming our University’s form of “thoughts and prayers” tweets.

It’s becoming all too common for acts of racism to pop up across campus and for the University to send an email saying it’s outside of the Principles of Community but that these acts are protected under the First Amendment.

But when students outraged by the University’s response practice their right to free speech, their messages “mysteriously” disappear. Posters and chalk messages reading “blackface is a hate crime” were taken down and washed away.

The University needs to do more than send an email. Students directly impacted by incidents like these deserve more than that.

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In recent years, The Collegian editorial staff made intentional efforts to report on racist incidents at CSU, not only with the hope of giving a voice to students directly impacted by these acts, but because that’s the bare-bones job of a campus newspaper. We reported on many incidents during the 2016-17 academic year. We partnered with ProPublica as part of their “Documenting Hate” project.

As a former editor of The Collegian, I cannot begin to accurately explain how the lack of reporting on this incident disappoints me.

I understand that reporting on issues of race at a predominantly white institution — and by extension, a predominantly white newsroom — can be incredibly terrifying to young journalists who may not know how to handle situations like this, but regardless of the reason to hold off on reporting, that’s no reason to stay silent.

To the University and to The Collegian, your silence is deafeningly loud to the students on this campus who were rightfully offended by the Snapchat and are hoping and demanding for action.

The Collegian tweeted Friday that the publication was “working on a comprehensive, in-depth look at the situation and its effects on campus” with CTV and KCSU.

“We are working hard to make this coverage factually accurate. As student journalists, it is our duty to the community to tell a comprehensive story,” the publication tweeted.

While hearing from the publication is better than hearing nothing, a measly thread of three tweets is like trying to put a bandaid on a bullet wound.

Yes, the newspaper is responsible for telling a comprehensive story. But it’s also responsible for telling a story when it happens in the first place.

At the bare minimum, The Collegian could have had an article as simple as “University responds to blackface Snapchat” that recapped the email. While an article like this wouldn’t have penned the student newspaper as an ally for students of color, it would have at least shown that those who work there are paying attention to issues that happen on campus.

I can’t ignore that the student newspaper waited too long to respond to a situation that warranted their immediate attention. It’s disheartening that The Collegian editorial staff failed to publish an article when their office is directly across the hall from the student run television, who managed to have a story on it. Namely, the CTV television studio ran a story about the incident at the start of their Sept. 12 broadcast.

The Collegian has been working to improve and rebuild relationships with various communities across campus since I started there in 2016.

While we’ve been far from perfect in accurately representing the students who are directly impacted by acts of hate and racist incidents across campus, we have never intentionally tried to ignore these incidents. The lack of reporting on the recent blackface Snapchat makes it seem like The Collegian is deliberately ignoring the students we’ve been actively working to connect with.

To the University and to The Collegian, your silence is deafeningly loud to the students on this campus who were rightfully offended by the Snapchat and are hoping and demanding for action.

I implore you to critically think about your actions — or lack thereof — and determine how you will work towards mitigating and repairing the relationships you damaged by failing to properly respond.

Respectfully,

Haley Candelario

Senior, Journalism and Media Communication

2018-19 Editor-in-Chief, Rocky Mountain Collegian