Feb 222009
Authors: Aaron Hedge

Be sure to check out more Black History month coverage from The Rocky Mountain Collegian, CTV Channel 11, KCSU 90.5-FM, and College Avenue magazine at http://studentmediacorp.com/multimedia/blackhistory.

Blanche Hughes came to CSU in 1982 to do graduate studies in student affairs after declining an offer from Harvard University –/a decision that brought her into a scant minority population.

But the now vice president for Student Affairs and member of CSU’s black community says coming back from other communities with bigger minority populations, as she has done, is always “a no brainer.”

Fort Collins, she said, appealed to her lifestyle as the mother of two children, even though the black community was a small.

Since she moved here, though, the university’s minority community has seen a tumultuous couple of decades.

When she arrived at CSU, Hughes said the university was in a bit of a lull after a decade rich in activism that was spurred by the Civil Rights Movement that brought a flurry of equality initiatives.

During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Hughes said, the university was trying to bring in a larger ethnic population, and it was working. But there was no mechanism for retention. Minority students would enroll and have no support group, so they would drop out, and, as a result, the black population number remained static.

“There was no way to keep them here, so it was a revolving door,” Hughes said.

In 1970, a group of black students stormed a peaceful demonstration to protest alleged racist actions by the Mormon Church at a Rams basketball game against Brigham Young University.

The students ran onto the court during halftime and raised the “black power salute,” inciting immediate action by the Fort Collins police riot response team and bringing what the CSU Web site calls a “climate of tension” to campus for a year.

Continued student action subsequently led student groups to then CSU President William Morgan’s office where they negotiated a sort of minority operating agreement, and the black and Latino student populations formed Project GO, a coalition that eventually gave shape to ElCentro and Black Student Services.

The system was established.

Then, when Hughes got here at the beginning of the 1980s, she said, there were few more than 100 black students on campus, and with a national trend of dwindling funds for education, activism projects fell be the wayside at many universities.

But CSU, she said, stayed in touch with its commitment to diversity. James Banning, then vice president for Student Affairs, refused to follow the national trend, which pushed diversity programs toward what Hughes called a “multiculturalism” office platform. Offices at other schools increasingly conglomerated into a model that incorporated all ethnicities.

“(Banning) held steadfast that we were not going to get rid of those offices,” she said. “We were going to keep them.”

In 1990, much like on the national stage in 2008, the first black president, Al Yates, was appointed to lead the university. During that time, Hughes was on sabbatical leave, but when she got back, she said, she couldn’t believe a black president was representing CSU.

“I was excited. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think we were ready for that,” she said, adding that her feelings reflected those of a nation this year, when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.

“I didn’t think we were ready for Obama either,” she said.

Development Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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