Response to Incident in Oklahoma, March 10, 2015
I find myself again wishing there was no need for me to write this email. But recent events at the University of Oklahoma remind me that wishes are not the same as actions. Colorado State University strongly supports the swift action taken by the University of Oklahoma to expel one of its fraternities for engaging in racist chants. The video that has surfaced of the incident signals an embedded culture of exclusion, bigotry and hate, and such a culture has no place in a community of higher learning, much less our society as a whole.
The emergence of this video has provoked strong reactions for many of us. It’s a reminder that the scourge of racism remains very much alive in the United States, even among young people born decades after the height of the civil rights movement. For many of us, it’s deeply disturbing that this type of behavior, rather than going away, has simply gone underground — people may watch their words in public but nevertheless are openly, even gleefully racist when out of the public eye. And for too many among us, this video is just one more in a numbing string of such incidents that, frankly, happen all the time, all over the country. This isn’t a fraternity issue. This isn’t a higher education issue. This is a societal issue.
So where does that leave us as a university community and as individuals? As a university, we can and do state forcefully that CSU is richer and stronger because of its diversity and inclusiveness, and respect for the dignity of all people is a core value of this institution. We can state that any such incident on our own campus will be dealt with swiftly and decisively. We can also reaffirm that while the First Amendment gives us certain rights to choose our own words, education gives us the obligation to choose them thoughtfully.
Ultimately, we all bear the consequences for the language we choose and the way we choose to wield it.
As individuals, the most important thing we each can do — and this is as simple as it is obvious — is not to be racist. That’s really the bottom line. But I would also suggest that we — as members of a learning community — have a particular obligation to stand up and push back against such behavior. Whether racism, gender bias, ageism, really any of the “ism’s” that have stained our thinking throughout human history … the time when any of us could stand on the sidelines and remain silent has long passed. When you hear something that crosses the line, speak up. If you’re not comfortable getting involved or believe there is a safety risk, use our Tell Someone website.
Learning how and when to intervene in challenging situations is a responsibility we all share – and one we each must commit to uphold.
Here at CSU, we pride ourselves on being a university that does things; we are not bystanders — we take action. And because this is CSU, we all have resources to learn these skills and the opportunity to build this expertise in a supportive environment. So let’s do it.
I wish we could promise that nothing like the OU incident will ever happen at CSU. I believe that our values and character as a community are strong and embraced by most of us. But these types of incidents — despite decades of struggle — continue to happen too often, and no place is immune. Still, we can commit to make a difference as individuals and as a community, and I ask that you join me in rising to that challenge.
Dr. Tony Frank