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Cooke and McKissick: Criticizing CSU is good but should be grounded in reality

Colorado State Administration building
The Colorado State University Administration Building Sept. 9, 2019. (Gregory James | The Collegian)

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.

Last Wednesday, preacher Keith Darrell and an unknown associate took to Colorado State University’s Plaza to spew hateful rhetoric against women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Following this incident, a social media account took to Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #CallOutCSU to blast the University for not arresting or silencing Darrell and his cohort.

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In a response to CSU’s Sept. 14 First Amendment statement, @CallOutCSU condemned CSU officials for prioritizing the speech rights of the preachers over the safety of CSU students. Their response also claims CSU’s is ignoring “racism, transphobia, homophobia, antisemitism and islamophobia.” 

preacher holding bible infront of pride flags
A preacher is surrounded by Colorado State University students on The Plaza Sept. 8. Students encircled the preacher to show community against controversial teachings. (Grayson Reed | The Collegian)

The University has had its share of controversies over the years, including acts of antisemitism and racism along with the recent homophobic rhetoric on The Plaza in the past week. Many argue that officials have dropped the ball in several areas. CSU has dragged its feet before on disciplining students who engaged in acts of racism, like the several students who partook in blackface who never faced academic punishment.

Criticism of the University is absolutely justified and healthy, and as students we should have high expectations of our institution of learning. However, it should go hand in hand with an accurate and pragmatic understanding of the situation.

For example, CSU’s well-earned reputation for sustainability should not prevent us from seeking areas of improvement. CSU’s Rams Against Hunger program has established food pantries across campus to address food insecurity and allows students to pick up leftover food from catered events.

Despite many students believing that CSU is choosing The Plaza preachers over them, the reality of the matter is that, as a public school, CSU is incapable of silencing dissenters.”

Tonie Miyamoto, director of communications and sustainability for Student Affairs, called the program “a triple win” and stressed the importance of removing the social stigma of asking for help while reducing waste.

CSU also assists students with applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and allows students to sign up for free dining hall swipes through the Rams Against Hunger Meal Swipe Program.

CSU promotes sustainable behavior among students through the Eco Leaders Program, in which students act as peer educators to “raise awareness about environmental, social and economic sustainability issues.”

93% of food waste from our dining halls is composted or sent through waste to energy programs, and according to Nicole Guild of Residential Dining Services, CSU donated 7,535 pounds of food to the Food Bank for Larimer County last year.

Criticism of the situation is healthy and welcome, but it needs to be grounded in an accurate understanding of the circumstances.”

All of these things considered, constructive criticism of CSU’s policies is still justified. For instance, single-use plastic bottles remain regular options in campus vending machines. Plastic bags are still used in several campus food spots and even the Colorado State University Bookstore. When can we expect the University to replace these plastics with more sustainable alternatives?

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These concerns are not to say that CSU fails when it comes to sustainable policies but that there is always room for improvement. Criticism of CSU’s sustainability efforts should be grounded in an accurate understanding of its current situation, which is that many of these policies are worth applauding.

Similarly, despite many students believing that CSU is choosing The Plaza preachers over them, the reality of the matter is that, as a public school, CSU is incapable of silencing dissenters. 

large crowd of students in plaza
A crowd of students at Colorado State University gather on The Plaza to protest controversial teachings Sept. 8. “Their logic is flawed in the sense that they are directly attacking people,” Katie Hill, a student, said. “That is where people start to come back at them. My thing is, if you’re religious, go with what you’re doing, quit your job, do whatever your religion tells you to do. Don’t go out being mean to people and force your opinions on to others.” (Grayson Reed | The Collegian)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that hate speech is indeed protected by the First Amendment and the federal government may not discriminate against speech based on the speaker’s opinion. Unless these people spewing vitriol turn violent or begin leveling their bigotry at one specific person and not just a crowd, CSU’s hands are tied.

It’s clear the CSU officials do care for the well-being of students, given their dedication to fighting food insecurity and making a sustainably hospitable campus, but the First Amendment protects less violent campus dissenters and students. In the case of more overtly violent bigotry, CSU has stepped up before.

In 2020, CSU expelled an incoming freshman following racist and homophobic Snapchat posts. CSU argued that the content of these posts “moved beyond the protections of the First Amendment” and took disciplinary action against the student. 

For now, regardless of what the rest of us think, it’s clear that CSU does not believe the rhetoric of Darrell and his associate have moved beyond those protections. Criticism of the situation is healthy and welcome, but it needs to be grounded in an accurate understanding of the circumstances.

Cody Cooke and Nathaniel McKissick can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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About the Contributor
Cody Cooke
Cody Cooke, Opinion Director
Cody Cooke is the director of the opinion desk for The Collegian and has worked for the newspaper since December 2019. He is a senior studying English and history with a concentration in creative writing. Cooke joined the opinion desk as a consistent way to sharpen his writing and to get involved with other student writers. He began as a columnist and remained a regular writer for more than a year before moving into his director position. He sees opinion writing as a rich and important combination of argumentation and journalism — a way to present facts that goes beyond objective reporting and makes a point. He also sees it as one of the most accessible platforms for any writer to start building a career. Working at The Collegian has taught him to be accountable and responsible for his own work while being proud of creating something worth sharing to a large audience. While not always easy, Cooke's time at The Collegian has been one of the most constructive and satisfying experiences of his collegiate career. 

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