Communication Around Bias or Hate Incidents, October 6, 2017
We have been hearing from students and faculty since the beginning of this semester that we, as a university, need to do a better job of communicating around bias or hate incidents that occur on our campus that negatively target an individual or a community. Such incidents, even when legally protected by the First Amendment, can fly in the face of our campus Principles of Community and leave members of our CSU family feeling isolated and intimidated. While we always intervene with those immediately impacted, it can be a difficult decision as to when to share information with the entire campus community, and I’ll admit it’s a decision we haven’t always gotten right. We have had several reported incidents of hate already this semester. It began with the paper noose that was hung in one of our residence halls just before classes started. And yesterday, our Jewish students, along with faculty, staff, and allies, marched in solidarity to draw attention to two anti-Semitic messages that appeared recently in the halls – one left anonymously on a student’s whiteboard and another involving an anti-Semitic nickname given to someone’s personal server that was visible to many on our campus network.
We have heard these concerns about communication and take them seriously. I discussed this earlier this week with members of the President’s Cabinet and how we can do better. As a start, let’s reset some foundational elements: Colorado State University deplores any acts of hate and terror and takes seriously our responsibility to investigate them and address them appropriately through our judicial and conduct systems. And while allowing hateful speech to occur as required by law, we can still publicly and strenuously disdain it when there is evident harm to our institution and its people. How much to communicate and when – and through which vehicles — can be a difficult balancing act, weighing the potential of magnifying the voice of those who would seek to intimidate against failing to state how strongly we condemn such actions and risking the appearance of inaction or apathy. It’s a balancing act that can leave many of us feeling frustrated, hurt, and angry. But to manage that balancing act with vigilance and care is precisely our responsibility as members of an academic community.
To that end, one of our Middle Eastern students had a concerning experience yesterday while riding on a local bus, and there are several points about this incident that are worth addressing. The woman was riding the bus when a local resident (one known to law enforcement and not a member of the CSU community) began to exhibit disturbing and intimidating behavior toward her. Such behavior is indefensible and utterly offensive to our community, which cherishes internationalism and diversity and is committed to inclusion and the safety of all people.
The incident also provided an outstanding demonstration of the power of effective bystander intervention. Other women and men on the bus interceded on our student’s behalf and condemned the man’s behavior, inserting themselves between our student and the perpetrator. A group of fellow passengers disembarked with her and walked her safely to her destination. The student did the right thing, as well, in reaching out to a trusted faculty member, who encouraged the student to report the incident to law enforcement. As a result, CSUPD was able to identify and cite the offender, who has been issued an exclusionary order from campus, which means he cannot be on CSU property.
This doesn’t erase the fear this woman felt or the feelings she will continue to struggle with over this incident. It doesn’t prevent such an incident from happening again, but it provides a model for all of us in upholding and defending our community standards. If you see something wrong, say something. If you are concerned about someone else or need personal guidance and support, Tell Someone. Take care of one another, because Rams take care of Rams – and because it’s our job as human beings.
In that spirit, I want to wish you all a renewing weekend filled with peace and community – get some rest, get out in the sun when you can, and know that our university is fully committed to your success and well-being. Be well.
Dr. Tony Frank