McWilliams: CSU’s response to the blackface incident is sickening

Leta McWilliams

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. Kenia Ortiz is a columnist for The Collegian. 

Last Monday, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a photo of a group of students with mud face masks posing in reference to “Black Panther,” with the caption “Wakanda forevaa.” By Tuesday, most people at Colorado State University had seen it too. 

Ad

Over the course of the week, University President Joyce McConnell sent out two emails referring to the incident as the blackface incident at CSU. The first gave us a summary of the incident and a tentative plan for what the University was going to do in response. The second gave us specifics of what those plans are. However, because of the nature of the first email, students are upset because they don’t believe CSU is doing enough to combat these continued acts of racism. 

In reality, the students that posed for the picture aren’t the problem: their actions are. More importantly, the problem is that CSU officials, in the eyes of many students, are going to do virtually nothing to combat this behavior. To be frank, this situation and the University officials’ response to it is sickening. 

During the past couple of years, the University was bombarded with hate crimes. There was a noose found in a residence hall that was believed to be targeted toward a Black resident assistant. There was a wireless network named “F*ck Jews.” The words “Hail Hitler” were written on a Jewish student’s door. There was a mannequin head covered in swastikas and racist graffiti to accompany it found in a dumpster outside Moby Arena. The police were called on two Native American students during a campus tour. Nationally, CSU isn’t known for its inclusivity as much as it wants to be. This isn’t the end of the list either.

In McConnell’s first email, the end of the first paragraph feels promising. But it goes into explanations that caused outrage among many students.

“We also affirm that personal social media accounts are not under our jurisdiction,” McConnell wrote. “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.”

It finishes with a discussion about University conversations and events to combat this behavior, which is simply not enough. If this was CSU’s first incident of racism in recent history, it would make sense for this to be the course of action — but it isn’t.

A lot of … first year students felt like the university isn’t made for them, that it isn’t inclusive to them, that it’s not a place for them. It jeopardizes a lot of people’s educations because of the feelings of anxiety and hurt.”-Jaylen Spires, a lead peer coordinator of the Black/African American Cultural Center

The email sent on Friday was stronger, seemingly more understanding and accommodating to those who are upset.

“Our students, faculty, staff and alumni were deeply harmed, hurt, frightened and angered by a photo posted on Instagram last weekend by a CSU student,” McConnell wrote. “We promised that we would respond with action, and we uphold that promise.”

The second email, while more specific with the action the University is going to take, doesn’t negate the initial response from University officials. The emotion and stance the University took in the second email should’ve been in the first response.

People are already upset by the first email. People are already feeling ignored by CSU officials. The hashtag “#NOTProudToBe” is circulating on social media. A second email doesn’t undo the damage that was caused by the first.   

Ad

In the eyes of someone outside of the University, we’re an institution that speaks of inclusion and diversity but doesn’t actually do anything when something racially inappropriate happens on our campus. Students are calling for action and for a response that makes them feel heard. The community initiatives and conversations that McConnell’s second email illustrates are the absolute bare minimum that should be happening, and it should’ve started years ago. 

Jaylen Spires, one of the lead peer coordinators of the Black/African American Cultural Center, witnessed students’ responses to the incident during Real Talk, an event put on by BAACC.

“A lot of people’s feelings were hurt,” Spires said. “A lot of … first year students felt like the University isn’t made for them, that it isn’t inclusive to them, that it’s not a place for them. It jeopardizes a lot of people’s educations because of the feelings of anxiety and hurt.”

It would be wrong to exclude the apologies the students in the photo made. The three boys in the photo explained their side, stating, “We profusely apologize; it does not represent who we are and CSU students at all.” The girl also said, “My mistakes have hurt others, and I deeply regret the pain that my ignorance has caused.”

These apologies were made quickly, seemingly without any pressure other than students’ voices on social media.

While these students’ actions were wrong, CSU officials are the problem. They aren’t listening to members of their community, and students are tired of their feelings and voices being put on the back burner under the argument of free speech. 

McConnell is a leader, but these emails aren’t fixing any problems. These actions should’ve been immediately condemned and called out for what they are — racism. If this lack of initial response continues from our leaders, microaggressions and hate crimes will continue.

Students took the free speech argument seriously and started writing their own opinions in chalk around The Plaza, one of them stating “Racists defend racists. Pres McConnell: Blackface is not okay.”

Writing on the sidewalk
A chalk message left on The Plaza reading “Racists defend racists…” (Twitter)

The following day, photos were put on Twitter accusing the University of washing away these messages. The University has since apologized, taking accountability for erasing these messages. 

Erasing the messages was stated as an accident with no malicious intent. However, it’s one more thing students are adding to their list in accusing the University of not taking the situation seriously and not listening to the communities that are affected by these racist acts. 

Kenia Ortiz, a columnist for The Collegian and the one who posted the washed away messages on Twitter, is disgusted by these continuous acts of racism at CSU.

“I am tired of reading apologies and being told to respect other’s voices,” Ortiz said. “I do not respect hatred, and I will not stand for it and take it as a learning experience. As a person of color, I am tired of being expected to fight this hatred and ignorance with kindness and patience.”

The University is a microcosm of the real world. There’s a president, a government and a society operating within campus. If action isn’t happening and voices aren’t being heard at this level, think about what’s happening outside of our figurative walls. By making change at CSU, you’re bettering the world you’ll be walking into. 

Leta McWilliams can be reached at letters@collegian and on Twitter @LetaMcWilliams.