Editorial: With pride, The Collegian stands with students

Serena Bettis, Katrina Leibee and Devin Cornelius (left to right) sit on the steps of the Colorado State University Administration Building May 31. Leibee is the editor in chief at The Rocky Mountain Collegian, Bettis the content managing editor and Cornelius the digital and design managing editor. (Cat Blouch | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: This is an editorial. Editorials do not reflect the view of all employees of The Collegian but instead represent a stance taken by The Collegian’s editorial board, which consists of the editor in chief, the content managing editor and the digital and design managing editor.

To the Colorado State University community:

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The editorial board of The Rocky Mountain Collegian stands with you. 

Last week, only one month into being fully back on campus, our community saw what we could, at the time, only describe as a ruckus; some type of major commotion that we have not seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Of course, like many other CSU students, we were inclined to roll our eyes and go along with our days after seeing social media posts about people gathered around preachers on The Plaza. It’s nothing new to see students and preachers shouting at each other in small circles while heading to class. 

Yet what happened last week felt entirely different. Although hearing biblical speak about the so-called immorality of identifying and living as LGBTQ+ is nothing unique, what we later learned last Wednesday afternoon was it was much more vindictive and hateful than that. But the truly novel thing about it was that students stopped arguing. They stopped trying to prove a point that would never register, and they stopped attacking one another.

CSU students united against hate last week, and we at The Collegian think that is a beautiful thing. 

The sight of students with so many different Pride flags made my heart weep; the sheer number of people who stood out in the heat to tell someone spouting hate to just leave gave me a greater feeling of acceptance than any generic statement from the University ever could.”

Newer students may not understand how rare this feels, but for those of you who have been around to see the shouting matches between political groups or the intense debates between the Associated Students of CSU and students demanding change, you can speak to the divisions in the CSU student body. Being on The Plaza last week was not one of those times.

Our coverage was indicative of the teamwork The Collegian thrives on. After coming out of classes and seeing the commotion, we had multiple photographers and reporters immediately take action and begin investigating what was going on. 

Katrina Leibee, our editor in chief, completed interviews on the spot between phone calls to plan how we would approach the topic. Once Serena Bettis, our content managing editor, sat down to write the story, we quickly realized this story needed to be on the cover of our print paper the next day. Within just a few hours, our photographer, Tri Duong, had his photos edited; our print editor, Falyn Sebastian, created a new cover; and our copy editors were checking the story. 

The point is, CSU students, you rallied around your peers, and you inspired us to rally, too.

As a queer journalist, last week stood out to me, Serena, significantly. The sight of students with so many different Pride flags made my heart weep; the sheer number of people who stood out in the heat to tell someone spouting hate to just leave gave me a greater feeling of acceptance than any generic statement from the University ever could. 

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Despite that, I was anxious about the story the entire night before we went to print. Even days later, I had nightmares about losing my journalistic credibility because I did not remove myself from this story when it so closely impacted me personally. 

There’s this old trend in journalism about how in order to do the job properly, you have to completely separate yourself from your work. Don’t register for a political party lest someone accuse you of bias; don’t speak out on the atrocities in the world because that could sway your reporting; don’t cover something that is close to your identity — even if there is not an ethical conflict of interest — because you can’t be impartial. 

Does the fact that I identify as queer make me biased in my reporting on the story? Because I support these students, as a queer student myself, is it possible I’ve been unfair to the preachers who came to campus? I don’t think so. 

Even as a queer journalist, I recognize and respect the right to free speech these preachers have on our campus. After all, without that freedom, our protections as a news organization would be in danger. 

In law, government land is seen as a public forum — a physical, government-subsidized space for expression — thus, because CSU is a government-funded public institution, the entirety of our campus — especially outside and especially on The Plaza — functions as a public forum in some capacity. 

What this means is that CSU and the CSU Police Department are not allowed to remove someone just for the words they say, hateful as they may be. The University would need specific, thorough reasons to do so, and in a court of law those restrictions will only be upheld if they have to do with the time, place and manner of the speech. Viewpoint-based restrictions on speech are rarely accepted.

Additionally, multiple United States Supreme Court cases have set precedents for situations similar to ours. In the 1945-46 case of Marsh v. Alabama and the 1968 case of Amalgamated Food Employees Union Local 590 v. Logan Valley Plaza, Inc., the Supreme Court ruled that speech could not be restricted, even on private property, because the companies had no prior history of regulating speech on their property.

Moreover, the law has found it extremely difficult to define hate speech and take action when hate speech has been identified. For that to happen, a clear criminal act has to occur alongside the speech.

Unless the University creates community requirements for speech on campus and actively enforces those regulations, they have no legal power in these situations.

So yes, those preachers have a right to be here as much as you, the community, has a right to protest them. 

That being said, the University needs to do more for its students, and we stand with you on that. An email that vaguely explains the First Amendment — an email that no one at our institution could even personally sign — coupled with a link to student support services is not supporting the students. Hateful speech does more than hurt; it kills. 

CSU community members, we are with you. We see you, we hear you and we stand with you because we are you. Our mission is to diligently report on the issues that matter most to you and keep you informed on the actions this University takes. 

So please, keep coming together as a community. Keep standing together, and we will be right there alongside you. 

With pride, 

The Collegian Editorial Board

Katrina Leibee, editor in chief

Serena Bettis, content managing editor

Devin Cornelius, digital and design managing editor

The Collegian Editorial Board can be reached at editor@collegian.com and @CSUCollegian.