Tony Frank is the president of Colorado State University. Recently the university was in the news because two potential Native American students visiting the campus had the police called on them by the parent of another potential student who felt that they did not ‘belong’. Humiliated and embarrassed, the two students left. Here’s a video of the incident.
This is what happens with the “see something, say something” mantra that has been drummed into people, that they should report anything ‘suspicious’ to the authorities. You can be sure that a white person walking around would openly carrying a gun would not be considered suspicious but a young person of color is automatically suspect.
Frank issued a statement apologizing for the incident and promising to make amends. He could have stopped there but he went on to ruminate on what this says about our culture and what needs to be done to combat the prevalent fear of ‘the other’.
What can all of us take away from this experience? What can we learn from it to make ourselves and our community more just? It seems to me that we can all examine our conscience about the times in our own lives when we’ve crossed the street, avoided eye contact, or walked a little faster because we were concerned about the appearance of someone we didn’t know but who was different from us. That difference often, sadly, includes race. We have to be alert to this, look for it, recognize it – and stop it. We simply have got to expect and to be better; our children and our world deserve it and demand it.
I make that declarative statement from within a glass house: a white man in a position of authority. I have, in my own journey, come to believe that privilege is like someone shining a bright light in our eyes; it makes it hard to see things that others can see unless we force our eyes to adapt. It’s my personal hope that I’ll continue to get better at doing this, and that by doing so I’ll become a better president, colleague, and human being. It’s in that spirit that I offer these thoughts, not as someone offering any special expertise, but as someone walking alongside all of you as we make our journeys together.
We are, in fact, in a battle with hate within our communities. While much of what we have been speaking about is born of ignorance, we can educate against ignorance. The hate that is in the hearts of white supremacists as they attempt to frighten and isolate people across this country is not ignorance. It’s a malignant choice. The increase in racist and anti-Semitic symbols and language and demonstrations across America’s college campuses has been well-documented. We at CSU have simply chosen to deal with these issues in a more open manner, and that comes at a potential reputational cost to CSU for being public when such things occur. But history has shown us that hate grows in the face of silence. Hate is not made uncomfortable. Hate does not shrink from fear. What affects hate is our willingness to shine a bright and unwavering light on it and to face it and confront it.
There is no place for hate at Colorado State University, and we will not be silent when we see it.
Good for Frank.