Feb 022010
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

Sticks and stones may break some bones and words, well, they mean a hell of a lot, too. On Monday evening, I was contacted by a CSU student from the Native American Cultural Center was concerned about the language and impact of a “Cowboys vs. Indians” theme for this weekend’s basketball game in Moby Arena. After reading the back and forth between prospective participants and opposing students, it’s evident that there is so much more to be done to bring unity for our country.

I had the opportunity to speak with a number of people both on and off campus about this including members of the Associated Students of CSU, university administrators and staff, fellow students, as well as my own personal friends.

The creator of the group and a couple of his supporters were also willing to meet to discuss the firestorm of racial and ethnic tension the theme is generating. To be honest, I was shocked by the lack of sensitivity among people of my own friend circles. I’ve fielded comments from “Lighten up” to the Facebook posts of “We’re honoring them. Indians love to drink and party.”

And that seems to be at the heart of the problem: sensitivity. In speaking with a freshman student who was supportive of the event, his primary stance is that Native Americans are overly sensitive and overreacting with political correctness. When asked if he thought an apology would be an appropriate step, he and the group’s leader were of a like mind: We were not trying to offend anyone, so an apology is not in order.

I recall learning while growing up that an apology is a simple courtesy when a mistake is made –– intentional or not. Maybe times have changed. But, changing times are not an excuse for marginalization of segments of the population who have expressed their discomfort.

CSU has been taking a number of steps in the past couple of years in building diversity programs and helping to make campus a valuable experience for all, but you can’t fault the university or the community for the actions of a few, or can you?

In the past two years here at CSU, I’ve answered more than a few e-mails and phone calls from prospective students to CSU who ask me straight up, “Is CSU a racist campus?” I was at a conference in fall of 2009 where a student of color told me that he stopped considering CSU because he didn’t feel comfortable with what he had heard about the surrounding community.

I myself was warned in 2006 by people I was working with in Boulder and Longmont of “the situation” in Fort Collins. To not be aware of these issues and not take action in addressing them may be just as harmful as accepting them. I say this because, to those who are affected by harsh, intolerant words, when the community who you call your friends and colleagues fail to validate and support you when these flags are being raised, it feels like being left to fend for yourself.

On the flip side, we might take this as an opportunity to recognize this not as an instance of malice or ignorance, but rather as a failure of a system to provide adequate education. In this, we might all have responsibility.

As a student of color at CSU and in Fort Collins, I personally feel saddened by the conversations I’ve read about the “Cowboys vs. Indians” theme. It was hard enough to keep perspective in speaking with students who so clearly were not apologetic or conscious of the discomfort and rage they had stirred among their peers.

Navigating racial stereotypes and discrimination in Fort Collins isn’t as easy as reading a sign that says “Blacks Not Welcome.” So when members of your community tell you to your face that you’re being overly sensitive and just stay calm, I think about the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-ins where four black college students demanded service at the whites only diner and wonder, how many times were they told “You’re being overly sensitive?”

Phoenix Mourning-Star is studying environmental epidemiology and his column occasionally appears in the Collegian.

 Posted by at 5:48 pm

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