I started at CSU as a student in 1969. Like many of my peers at the time, I actively engaged in anti-war demonstrations that were taking place on college campuses throughout the country. I caucused as a delegate to a national political convention on behalf of women, youth, and Latinx communities. Witnessing the injustices of the world around me, especially as a young woman of color, spurred my passion for social justice and activism. My optimism carried me through those difficult times; we were changing the world for future generations. When I thought of the future, I imagined a society very different than the one I was experiencing all those years ago, and that gave me hope.
Now, over 50 years later as a Vice President at Colorado State, the scope of what is happening in our country makes it incredibly difficult not to be absolutely and utterly disheartened. While I know the actions I, and so many others, have taken in the past towards an equitable and inclusive society do matter, the realization of how much progress is yet to be made is overwhelming. I share this not to discourage others, but to frame the lens that I hold as I write this message.
The pain and frustration I feel pales at what I know my Black and African American colleagues, community members, and friends are holding. A catalyst of this pain is the continued, senseless, and horrific killings of Black folks including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and so many others. But this pain and anger is not limited to these recent tragedies and to believe that is to ignore the longstanding, prevalent, and systemic presence of racism in our institutions, our societies, and ourselves. The killings of innocent people at the hands of those meant to protect them; the inequities in our education system; the lack of healthcare options for low income and people of color; the inability to attain affordable housing; the massive income inequalities present in the U.S. To believe that this pain is temporary or new is a willful ignorance to these facts and only sets oneself up to “go back to normal,” as our society has done countless times after major tragedy.
If I have learned anything in my 50 years at CSU, it is that unless all of us at every level of our institution commit to taking concrete action to face the critical flaws inherent in our systems and drastically move to change them, then that change won’t last. We must seize this opportunity to come together to change these narratives, to change our future as a country. We must center anti-racist learning and programs and continue dismantling the systems that keep all of us down. We can no longer look at the world as we may have in the past. We must take in this moment, listen and learn, and let it inform us as we move forward.
I am deeply committed to continuing that dedication to social justice that grew as I stepped onto CSU’s campus for the first time. Along with the team in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, I will do all that I can to answer this pain with action. We must do this together for the sake of our University, society and our world.
Mary Ontiveros (’73, ’79) is Vice President for Diversity at CSU in Fort Collins