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Colorado State University Cites First Amendment, Won't Punish Students in Viral Blackface Photo

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Four Colorado State University students will escape official punishment for posting a photo of themselves in blackface on Instagram, despite the uproar created by the incident that has forced one of the students to live off-campus.

The photo shows four unidentified white Colorado State University students, three males and one female, in what appears to be blackface. The caption underneath reads “Wakanda forevaa,” which refers to Marvel’s “Black Panther” hit film.

The photo caused an uproar, fraying nerves still raw from the spring incident in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam‘s medical school yearbook showed a picture of him in blackface. The governor first admitted he was in the controversial photo, then later walked back that statement.

“I don’t consider that free speech in any way,” student Myles Harrison, who is black, told KDVR. “That’s a form of hate speech.”

“When I saw the post, I wasn’t furious — I was more agitated,” junior Ethan Harris, a member of Black/African American Cultural Center, said, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan. “It just looked like kids that made a poor decision. Malicious or not, it upset a bunch of people.”

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College President Joyce McConnell said the students’ post ought to be a teaching moment so that the college community could learn about racism and also the First Amendment.

“Because of the long and ugly history of blackface in America, this photo 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,” she wrote in a statement.

Do you think the school made the correct decision?

“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. 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.”

McConnell added that the incident “can be a powerful learning moment that leads to healing and reconciliation. 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.”

That did not sit well with some critics.

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Student Leana Kaplan admitted she was the female in the group and released a statement through her father, Les Kaplan.

“Life lessons may not come from the best situations. My mistakes have hurt others and I deeply regret the pain that my ignorance has caused. The picture was taken after we were experimenting with cosmetic facial masks. I understand how awful this photo looks. The history of blackface is real and cannot be denied. I am sorry. I hope this incident can be used as an opportunity for dialogue and learning,” her statement said.

Her father said that new students at the college were given a dark-colored anti-acne cream by a campus group, and the students were applying the cream when the photo was taken.

“They’re just a bunch of kids having fun and not thinking,” Les Kaplan said. “These are not racist kids.”

His daughter no longer lives on campus.

“My daughter is devastated. She’s getting death threats. She’s getting called all kinds of obscene names,” he said.

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Jack Davis is a freelance writer who joined The Western Journal in July 2015 and chronicled the campaign that saw President Donald Trump elected. Since then, he has written extensively for The Western Journal on the Trump administration as well as foreign policy and military issues.
Jack Davis is a freelance writer who joined The Western Journal in July 2015 and chronicled the campaign that saw President Donald Trump elected. Since then, he has written extensively for The Western Journal on the Trump administration as well as foreign policy and military issues.
Jack can be reached at jackwritings1@gmail.com.
Location
New York City
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Foreign Policy, Military & Defense Issues




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