Colorado State University Will Not Punish Students Who Wore Blackface

Colorado State University said it will not punish the students who wore blackface in a picture that went viral on social media.

In the viral photo obtained by NBC News, four white students from the university are in blackface, while two students in the photo crossed their arms into an x against their chest.

The photo was captioned as “Wakanda forevaa,” a reference to the Marvel movie “Black Panther.”

The university’s president, Joyce McConnell, and two other administrators wrote in a September 10 letter that the Instagram image “has caused a great deal of pain to members of our community.

“We have heard from many of you — and we hear you. Moreover, we respect your voices. We know that images like this one — whether consciously racist or not — can perpetuate deliberate racism and create a climate that feels deeply hostile,” the statement from university officials read.

Officials stated that because of First Amendment rights, and because the photo was posted on a personal social media account, the students will not be punished for their actions.

“We also affirm that personal social media accounts are not under our jurisdiction. Our community members — students, faculty and staff — can generally post whatever they wish to post on their personal online accounts in accordance with their First Amendment rights,” the letter read.

“This recent post runs counter to our principles of community, but it does not violate any CSU rule or regulation, and the First Amendment prohibits the university from taking any punitive action against those in the photo.”

Instead of punishing the students, university officials said its offices “have already asked faculty and staff to share their professional expertise and personal wisdom on the issues that this posted image raises about race and identity.”

“We are all here at CSU to learn, and we believe that this can be a powerful learning moment that leads to healing and reconciliation,” the letter read. “We urge every member of our community to listen, and to hear, all the voices that make up this wonderful, diverse campus family so we can move forward together, stronger than ever.”

This is not the first time a university has said it could not punish students for their racist actions. In July, three students from the University of Mississippi were suspended from their fraternity for posting a photo of them posing in front of a bullet-riddled historical marker of lynching victim Emmett Till.

The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica first reported about the picture on July 25. Rod Guajardo, the University of Mississippi spokesman, previously told The North Star that university officials became aware of the racist photo in March and said a report was made to its Bias Incident Response Team and to the university’s police department. Guajardo said the photo was reported to the FBI “which reported back to [University of Mississippi Police Department] that it declined to investigate further because the photo did not pose a specific threat.”

“While the image is offensive, it did not present a violation of [the] university code of conduct,” Guajardo said in the previous statement to The North Star. “It occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event.”

Larry D. Sparks, Interim Chancellor at the university, said in a previous statement to The North Star that because the incident occurred off campus, the university cannot punish the students.

“The incident occurred off campus, did not rise to the level of a threat per federal authorities, and was not part of any university-affiliated event. As a community of learning and a state institution, we have limits on the tools available to remedy this offensive behavior,” the statement reads.

However, US Attorney Chad Lamar previously told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica that the case is currently being investigated. Although the students were not punished by the school, the three men were suspended from their fraternity in July. Guajardo said in his statement that the university supports the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity on its decision and said it is “ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter.”

“The making of the photo was unrelated to any event or activity of the chapter. It is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable,” Jesse Lyons, assistant executive director of the Kappa Alpha Order’s national office in Lexington, Virginia, previously told CBS News. “It does not represent our Kappa Alpha Order.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.