Students march for systemic change at CSU

Hundreds of students march during the 2019 Fall Address in response to racially biased incidents on campus.

More than 300 Colorado State University students led a peaceful and silent march during President Joyce McConnell’s Fall Address in response to racially biased incidents on campus.

Clad in black and locking arms, the students marched from Johnson Hall to the Oval carrying signs with the hashtag #NotProudtoBe. The demonstration stemmed from four CSU students appearing in blackface on Instagram on Sept. 8,  with the caption “Wakanda forevaa,” a reference to the Marvel movie Black Panther.

McConnell acknowledged the demonstrators during her first Fall Address as CSU’s 15th president.

“I’m very, very proud of our students who are marching right now and exercising their First Amendment rights,” said McConnell as students peacefully marched in front of the stage set up on the Oval for the address. The audience gathered for the Fall Address gave the protesters a standing ovation as they processed.

As they marched, McConnell announced the immediate creation of a Race, Bias and Equity Initiative to improve campus climate, reduce incidents of bias, and “make it possible for diverse students with diverse perspectives and ideas to feel safe, learn and succeed.”

“To those of you here today who have been the victims of racism and bias on our campus and who have not felt supported by CSU, I am deeply sorry for all the ways we have failed you,” McConnell said during her speech. “You are frustrated. You are sad. And most of all, you are tired. I cannot ease those feelings today. We may not be able to ease them for months. But we will try.”

Unity and action

The students marched from Johnson Hall to the center of the Oval and stood for a short time before marching in front of McConnell and returning to Johnson Hall. Organizers led an emotionally charged gathering following the march in which students called for unity and action.

Janaye Matthews, a fourth-year CSU student who was one of several organizers, spoke to the demonstrators via a loudspeaker addressing the blackface incident.

“At the end of the day, if you choose blackface in any form, as innocent as you think it is, you get to wash that … off,” Matthews said. “I have to walk with it every day of my life, and I am proud to be black. And I will not – I will not stand by and let people continue to mock me and my existence, to mock our Latinx community, our Native community, our Asian-Pacific community, our queer community.”

Matthews told the demonstrators more work needs to be done by both students and CSU. She encouraged them to call out incidents of bias and hate and to lean upon each other for support. “Anytime one of us is singled out, we all feel it,” she said.

Following her address, Matthews said there isn’t one organizer of the action. She said it came together from students who were fed up, and it spread through social media, adding that they are not going to let this go away. They are currently gathering information and the stories of people to help establish next steps.

Kathy Sisneros, assistant vice president for student affairs, said the students exercised their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. Sisneros recognized the emotional toll the situation has taken on the students.

“The bottom line is I’m proud of every student today and last night at the Associated Students of Colorado State University government meeting,” she said. “I saw a wonderful demonstration of student courage of conscience and a display of hope that will seed a call for systemic change.”