Message from President Frank, April 11, 2012
Dear Colleagues and Students,
As has been widely reported, Fort Collins police are actively investigating an off-campus fight that involved several of our students last weekend, including reportedly some CSU football players. Everyone is entitled to due process, and until charges are filed or a police report is issued, it wouldn’t be right for me to comment on the specifics of the case — other than to say that we are working with the students involved and that Athletics and Coach McElwain have taken all the right measures, given the information we have at this point.
In the meantime, I want to use this as an opportunity to reflect on several important points relevant to us as a campus community.
1. First of these is “process.” In any incident in which CSU students may be involved in criminal activity, two processes come into play:
- First, law enforcement investigates, works to build a case, and, if the evidence warrants, turns its findings over to the district attorney who determines if and when any charges will be filed. From there, the case proceeds through the judicial system, and any punishments or remedies are determined by that system.
- Second, we at CSU have an internal “student conduct process” that looks at whether a student has lived up to the university’s expectations for student conduct and behavior. While all students charged with a crime must go through the student conduct process, a student does not have to be charged in a court of law to be found in violation of the student code of conduct, which may carry consequences ranging from no action to expulsion. We encourage all CSU students to read the conduct code and understand the rules and regulations it contains.
When disturbing news is reported, most of us will, at least at first, react instinctively — demanding immediate action, retribution, or punishment for those involved. But we still live in a nation where all people are innocent until proven guilty, and getting at the full truth of any incident can be complex — and can take some time to be done right. The two processes noted here — the judicial process and the student conduct process — are designed to protect the rights of all involved as well as to protect the ability of law enforcement to manage and complete their investigation. We at CSU respect those processes and their importance to the welfare, rights, and safety of all in our campus community.
2. The second issue I want to reflect on here is “language.” As a community committed to providing a safe and welcoming learning environment for all people, we must recognize that language has power, and the careless use of harmful language has no place in an academic community. Ours is a community that includes people of many different races, ethnicities, religions, political ideologies, physical capabilities, and sexual orientations. This diversity is our greatest strength as a university, and it can also be a challenge. Living and working together in a collegial, peaceful environment requires that we commit the respect, understanding, and effort to understand each other’s experiences and perspectives.
It also requires that we think twice about our choice of words. It has been reported by some media that those involved in Saturday’s incident may have initially exchanged homophobic slurs. As reported to date, the term was used as a way to taunt and challenge. This is, unfortunately, all too common today, and we need to acknowledge that these expressions are both hurtful and disrespectful, not just to those they target but to all of us.
The First Amendment gives us certain rights to choose our own words. Education gives us the obligation to choose them thoughtfully. The use of homophobic slurs, in any fashion, has no place at CSU.
Careless use of incendiary words causes real damage. Almost 90 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students in middle school and high school report being verbally harassed in school — and more than 60% report feeling physically unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. Use of homophobic slurs, however casually, perpetuates such fears and effectively isolates and denigrates a segment of our community, contributing to making some people feel unsafe and unwelcome at CSU and degrading the quality of our discourse and sense of community overall. We are all lessened because of it.
CSU takes its commitment to non-discrimination seriously — not out of mere political correctness but because it is the law, and certainly the right thing to do. Ensuring the safety of all our scholars and educators is among our highest institutional priorities.
3. The final point I want to address today is a more simple one: support. CSU offers a significant array of support services for students, recognizing the stresses and challenges of college life.
No one on this campus is expected to put up with harassment — verbal or physical. Everyone has the right to feel safe at CSU. And we also offer comprehensive support for students dealing with drug, alcohol, or mental health issues. If you’re concerned about a friend, use our Tell Someone website. If you need guidance about who to talk to, call the Health Network — or talk to your RA or a trusted faculty member. There is a network of support for you here, and all you have to do is ask.
Even difficult incidents have the potential to teach and advance us, as humans and as a community. I hope that all of us at CSU — students, faculty, staff, and administrators — will take some time this week to consider and discuss these issues and their importance to our campus community.
Dr. Tony Frank