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Colorado College students discuss racist comments at school-wide forum

November 16, 2015 Updated: November 17, 2015 at 7:47 am
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Native American students at Colorado College have been asked "what tribe of Indian" they belong to, war whooped at and heard blasphemy about sacred cultural elements.

Asian students have been subject to segregation and alienation.

Black students have been told their hair is too kinky and their ability to dance isn't from training and practice but innateness.

Mixed-race students have been told they're "not black enough" or "too white."

The private, liberal arts college's 2,000 students started Block 4 on Monday by attending a schoolwide forum on racism. The event came on the heels of multiple anonymous comments made Oct. 9 on the social media platform Yik Yak. Some contained the "N" word and expressed hatred toward black students, with one post saying they should "go back to the cotton fields."

The incident was not isolated. At college campuses across the nation last week, racial tensions mounted after the University of Missouri's president stepped down over protests against the administration's handling of racial bias and hostility on campus.

The CC gymnasium was packed to the rafters Monday morning, as students listened to their classmates randomly stand up, grab a microphone and talk about their experiences with discrimination, prejudice, bigotry and hatred on campus.

"I came to Colorado College to get a degree. I didn't come to start a race war, or join a race war," said one black female student. "If we want a general understanding of each other, we need to have these conversations."

From microaggression to blatant racism, they painfully described their experiences to their peers.

"We're all human. We shouldn't divide ourselves by race," said another black female student, who added that she was willing to speak up "so that future CC students of Colorado don't have to go through it."

Several students said racism at the college has been going on "for a long time" and called for change.

"Racism is alive on this campus," said senior education major Justin Haas, who is involved with several student groups including the Black Student Union.

"White students and faculty are standing idly by when students of color are facing racism, exclusion, condescending questions of where they are from and why they are here or being the only student of color in a class. I demand we as a college change our behavior and stop friends and colleagues from saying racist things and doing racist actions."

William Pak, a sophomore and member of the Korean American Student Association, said, "What good is it if I try to stand in solidarity with my peers only in times of trouble? I want to stand with my fellow students in a way that is constructive and helpful."

A few white students spoke of their sadness and shame about what's happening and their awakening to the privileges they have had, but not realized.

"We must bring change from the inside out, accept that racism exists, be cognizant, commit to understanding perspectives and support each other," said a white male student. "It is not enough to simply stand in solidarity with each other, we must act in solidarity."

To help students understand racial issues, the college's Tutt Library is featuring books on race relations, various ethnic groups on campus have regular meetings for anyone to attend, weekly open dialogues and other events will be held.

"To have any expression of hate show up in our community is too much," said CC president Jill Tiefenthaler.

Although the college has policies prohibiting hate speech, the identity of those who posted the comments on Yik Yak is unknown, she said.

"Wednesday morning, an individual admitted anonymously to the racism, saying they had no idea of the horrible impact the words would have," Tiefenthaler said.

"Some of us don't feel safe on campus. Some of us are distracted, wondering if someone hates them based on their religion or color of their skin."

Tiefenthaler said she wants to build an "inclusive community," in which every student feels like "this is their CC" and every student "has a home here."

Students said they appreciated the forum.

Sophie Jauna, a senior from southern Oregon who was wearing an "I love CC" button on her coat, said she wished the event would have happened sooner. "Being white, I don't think about my race every day," she said. "I feel like my education is just beginning. I've considered myself an outsider, and I want that to change."

James Reohr, a sophomore from Weston, Mass., said he was glad about the social media postings, even though they were awful.

"It brought this issue to light more. That talk gave us a jumping-off point to build upon as far as race issues go."

"It can't go away at this point, and it shouldn't," added Madeline Abrams, a sophomore from Portland, Ore.

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