Editor’s note: President Tony Frank sent the following message to the entire Colorado State University campus community on May 4, 2018.
Earlier this week, we alerted campus to an incident that occurred on an Admissions tour, in which a mother who was part of the tour called the police with suspicions about two young, Native American men. In keeping with our University policy of being open and transparent about issues like this, we’ve shared the information campus-wide, and it has now been picked up by national news outlets and social media. I’m writing now to bring you up to date on where we are in responding, and to share some thoughts as our semester comes to a close.
The tour incident and its implications have troubled and angered many of us on campus as well as many of our alumni and people with no connection to CSU. The emotions released have ranged from sadness to frustration to anger, all flowing from a reservoir of sympathy created by imagining ourselves or our children in this situation. This empathy unmasks the fundamental unfairness at play, and creates a cognitive dissonance with who we are and who we aspire to be. The resounding theme expressed to our office has been that people want to ensure we are reaching out to the young men and doing what we can to make things right. This is absolutely the University’s goal. Vice President for Enrollment and Access Leslie Taylor and I have both tried to contact the family through various means, and we have so far not been successful. Our hope is to speak with the family of the young men and to, at a minimum, reimburse their expenses and offer them another opportunity to visit our campus as VIP guests if they have any interest in doing so. At this point, we are attempting to make that contact through social media as we have not been successful through other means.
Earlier this morning, I and some others were able to view the body cam footage of our police interaction with these students. Rather than trying to describe what I see through my own set of lenses, I’ll simply offer that the footage is now publicly available, as is the police report of the incident at https://safety.colostate.edu/
Our administration has also been meeting to discuss potential changes to how we manage campus tours and will move as soon as possible to some type of badging or lanyards for tour guests so they are clearly identifiable as visitors to our campus. We have developed a new protocol by which CSUPD will make tour guides aware if they ever need to interact with a tour participant. And VP Taylor and her staff also will be working with our student tour guides, who do an outstanding job in a very difficult role, to incorporate new language into their introductions so that anyone with questions or concerns views the tour guide as the first point of contact.
These are obviously small steps aimed at parts of the etiology of this specific incident, but they reflect the deep concern and commitment shared by our Admissions team, CSUPD, and the University administration to prevent something like this from happening again.
I don’t mean to minimize these small steps by what I’m about to say next – they’re important. But as a parent and as a university president, I worry even more about the big strides we need to make as a culture and a campus. Two young men, through no fault of their own, wound up frightened and humiliated because another campus visitor was concerned about their clothes and overall demeanor, which appears to have simply been shyness. The very idea that someone – anyone – might “look” like they don’t belong on a CSU Admissions tour is anathema. People of all races, gender identities, orientations, cultures, religions, heritages, and appearances belong here. As long as you want to earn a great education surrounded by people with the same goal who come from every part of our state, our country, and our world, then you belong here. And if you’re uncomfortable with a diverse and inclusive academic environment, then you probably have a better fit elsewhere.
We are committed – through our role and mission – to provide access to an exceptional education to everyone with the talent and motivation to earn their degree. We’ve been working hard at this – and we have progress worth celebrating. This year’s entering class at CSU is 31% diverse, mirroring or exceeding our state’s diversity. We have among the lowest race-based graduation rate gaps in the nation. We have strong internal support networks for students of different identities, including the excellent work of our cultural and resource centers, and strong student, faculty, and staff leadership around diversity and inclusion. And we know our work in these areas isn’t done – it needs to be strengthened and continued.
That’s probably where I ought to stop, but some of you have been teasing me that my emails have been getting too short….and there’s a bit more I feel I need to say here, if you’ll bear with me.
What can all of us take away from this experience? What can we learn from it to make ourselves and our community more just? It seems to me that we can all examine our conscience about the times in our own lives when we’ve crossed the street, avoided eye contact, or walked a little faster because we were concerned about the appearance of someone we didn’t know but who was different from us. That difference often, sadly, includes race. We have to be alert to this, look for it, recognize it – and stop it. We simply have got to expect and to be better; our children and our world deserve it and demand it.
I make that declarative statement from within a glass house: a white man in a position of authority. I have, in my own journey, come to believe that privilege is like someone shining a bright light in our eyes; it makes it hard to see things that others can see unless we force our eyes to adapt. It’s my personal hope that I’ll continue to get better at doing this, and that by doing so I’ll become a better president, colleague, and human being. It’s in that spirit that I offer these thoughts, not as someone offering any special expertise, but as someone walking alongside all of you as we make our journeys together.
We are, in fact, in a battle with hate within our communities. While much of what we have been speaking about is born of ignorance, we can educate against ignorance. The hate that is in the hearts of white supremacists as they attempt to frighten and isolate people across this country is not ignorance. It’s a malignant choice. The increase in racist and anti-Semitic symbols and language and demonstrations across America’s college campuses has been well-documented. We at CSU have simply chosen to deal with these issues in a more open manner, and that comes at a potential reputational cost to CSU for being public when such things occur. But history has shown us that hate grows in the face of silence. Hate is not made uncomfortable. Hate does not shrink from fear. What affects hate is our willingness to shine a bright and unwavering light on it and to face it and confront it.
There is no place for hate at Colorado State University, and we will not be silent when we see it.
So, to our community, I put the question: Where do we go from here?
Are we willing to push ourselves into uncomfortable places in order to see the reality of what people experience on our campus and how we help to perpetrate it, whether through action or inaction, collectively and as individuals?
If we can do that, then we take a big step toward assuring that everyone with the talent and motivation to earn a college degree here at CSU can do so in a setting in which they’ll be intellectually challenged, but also one that they’ll be proud to call home. That’s a goal we will never stop striving for; it is simply who we are.
In one week, the semester will end, and many of us will disperse for the summer. I usually close my end of term emails by talking about baseball and rest and coming back to campus reenergized for the fall term. But these challenges will still be here when we get back. This is our university. What are we going to do about these challenges?
It is my hope that each of us returns with a commitment to be a little kinder, a little better, to work a little harder at seeing each other’s point of view, and to use our voice. Not always to agree, but always to defend each other and to oppose hate.
Be well, CSU, take care of yourselves and each other.
Dr. Tony Frank