CSU and Diversity, February 5, 2010
Dear Colleagues and Students:
Over the course of this week, there has been an ongoing dialogue, played out on Facebook and other web sites, that has exposed some serious issues we need to address as an institution.
When a large number of people objected to a suggestion that CSU students “dress like Indians” for Saturday’s basketball game against Wyoming, the organizers appropriately changed the focus of their fan event to an “Orange Out.” While we believe there was no deliberate intent to hurt anyone through the initial event proposal, people have been hurt by it — and by comments and actions since. Comments made on Facebook and various media sites this week have demonstrated an appalling lack of historical knowledge and sensitivity in some cases — and some of them, frankly, have crossed the bounds of decency. Native American students have reported being harassed and taunted. Those who have expressed hurt have been bluntly told by some of their peers to “quit whining.”
While we hope that the number of people on our campus who find such offensive comments and behavior acceptable or amusing is small, we want to make it clear once again that there is no place for racism and grotesque cultural stereotyping at an institution of higher learning, and especially not at CSU. There is absolutely no place for the kind of taunting and harassment that has been directed toward some of our Native American students.
When engaging in behavior that demeans another culture, it’s all too common to deny that’s what is actually happening. It’s easy to say, “It was just a joke, lighten up, there’s no reason to be offended. Let it go.” But we expect better from members of the CSU community. This is not just about the cultural insensitivity of “dressing up like Indians.” It is about a segment of our student population that has been made to feel less safe and less welcome on our campus because of their ethnic origin. That’s something we all ought to be saddened by and take seriously.
All of us at CSU share responsibility for this situation. Racial intolerance and violence often begin with inflammatory words of hostility and disrespect. Unless, as a community, we seek to understand and condemn such intolerance — and the words that fuel it — our silence is suggesting that it is acceptable. It’s not.
Even while we refuse to excuse people’s ignorance, it is time to elevate this entire discussion to one that is appropriate to a community of higher learning. To paraphrase someone writing today on The Collegian website, just because this story seems to be over for the majority population, it doesn’t mean the end of the story for those who have been directly impacted. We all have responsibility for this community and what it stands for. And we are challenged now to demonstrate that this is, indeed, a campus that welcomes and respects all people — where we listen to one another, learn from one another, and resist the temptation to just dismiss or out-shout those with whom we disagree.
As stated in an e-mail to campus last week, Blanche Hughes is serving as our newly appointed Acting VP for Diversity. Blanche will be taking the lead, with our students and members of our faculty, over the coming months to explore this issue of campus climate and to identify ways to move forward in ensuring a more welcoming, safe community for all. We ask that you participate in this conversation with an open mind, recognizing that all of us are on a lifelong journey to understand our world and one another, and that just because we don’t understand someone else’s perspective doesn’t mean their perspective is wrong. Understanding what racial intolerance is can be the beginning of accepting our own responsibilities in confronting it—and the first step toward deepening understanding among all of us who come from different backgrounds and cultures, but who share a common bond as members of this community.
We admit it’s disappointing to be more concerned about the behavior of our own fans heading into one of our most important athletic rivalries than we are about our opponents. This has been a tough week for a lot of people, and while we want all members of our community to feel welcome and safe here at CSU, we end this week knowing that many of us do not. Let’s commit, together, to change this — beginning with a strong show of campus unity and civility at tomorrow’s basketball game. Let’s remember we’re Rams, and Rams are strongest when we stand together. Let’s learn from this past week how to stand strong together, in a spirit of respect and mutual understanding.
Dr. Tony Frank
Dr. Blanche Hughes
Vice President for Student Affairs and Acting Vice President for Diversity
Dr. Rick Miranda
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President