Backlash over the recent blackface incident at the Colorado State University has prompted officials to launch an initiative to tackle racial biases.
On Thursday, school President Joyce McConnell announced the creation of Race, Bias and Equity Initiative, which will include students, faculty and staff, to combat the racism and inequities on campus.
“Whether an individual or institutional, racism and bias is antithetical to the core mission of excellent higher education,” McConnell said.
“Our universities and colleges must be places of equality and achievement driven by discovery and difficult conversations. Robust debate on a public campus is protected by the First Amendment, but this does not mean we are powerless to fight for change through positive, engaged discourse, action and accountability.”
On September 8, a picture of four white students wearing blackface and captioned “Wakanda”, the setting for the movie “Black Panther,” surfaced on social media drawing criticism and calls to punish the students.
The University said that the incident didn’t violate its policies as free speech was under the First Amendment.
During the fall address by President McConnell, nearly 300 students marched on campus carrying signs with the hashtag #NotProudtoBe.
“At the end of the day, if you choose blackface in any form, as innocent as you think it is, you get to wash that … off,” said Janaye Matthews, a fourth-year CSU student. “I have to walk with it every day of my life, and I am proud to be black.”
The university is planning to call for formal proposals from students, faculty, and staff for implementable initiatives to combat racism.
In a similar incident earlier this year, a group of students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville posted a picture with a racist caption on Snapchat, featuring two students dressed in blackface. However, after days of discussions, university administrators decided not to take any action against the students, claiming that they were “expressing their First Amendment rights.”
The handling of the incident prompted more than 40 students dressed in black to remain seated in protest during the singing of the national anthem at a school basketball game.