One of the Diversity Symposium events at Colorado State University held in recent years focused on the symbols and history of lynching in the U.S.A.
That event featured a short documentary film, “An Outrage,” at the LSC theater. Before the film was screened, a few professors gave a brief presentation about the history of lynching in the U.S.A. and how we still see the effects of its history today. A faculty member provided information on where to seek to counseling due to the sensitive topic and imagery.
The film itself was approximately 30 minutes long. This is a condensed amount of time for such a convoluted history, but the film delivered content in a compelling way. Use of on-site footage of numerous lynching sites in the south hit the crowd with a sense of reality and distance in time. As you can see in the map below, Colorado was among the 20 states with the most lynchings between 1882-1968.
Accredited scholars, activists and family descendants of victims were interviewed for the film and offered a well-rounded perspective on the inhumane acts written in U.S. history.
Four students involved in the Liberal Arts Department and/or one of the diversity programs at CSU took the stage after the screening to have a closed discussion and ended with an open Q & A session. In the discussion, the students shared their feelings of anger, frustration and fear with the harsh reality that inhumane acts followed by injustice are still an issue today for most ethnic populations. Some argue that we are even more of a power-driven divided society than before because we are living with the effects of transition. One student proclaimed, “We can’t move forward until we assess how we got to where we are.”
These students emphasized how they can only speak from their experience, and that four black college students cannot (and should not) be an accurate representation of the “black experience.” Another female student chimed in saying, “There are more people speaking for us on experiences they’ve never had.” This can lead to misinterpretation and even disrespect on those populations who have endured heavy histories.
Daryn Fouther, a business student at CSU, commented on the conversation afterward: “It really is painful when I think about how our history is swept under the rug. People are also misinformed about certain facts and spread false truths easily. The first step to forgiving and moving forward is to try and understand true historical facts from all perspectives.”
There was an incident on campus that the students touched on. This incident served as a reminder of our buried history and just how lack of knowledge can lead to acts of violence. A paper noose was found hung up in the stairwell of Newsom Hall. University President Tony Frank sent out a campus-wide email stating: “Our Colorado State community stands firmly against anyone who seeks to intimidate, incite violence and deprive others of their the Constitutional rights,” but after all things considered, the case closed without further investigation on who made the noose.
Evan Thompson is a third-year student at CSU. He commented on the recent incident: “Even if it was meant as a joke, the symbol of the noose is part of our history and is a common form of suicide today. Nothing about that is funny.”
Some students were not aware of what the symbol of a noose is linked to, which stressed the importance of why these events are organized in the first place: to uncover the reality — as uncomfortable as it may be — to look forward and be the change.
The same principle may be applied to cultural adaptation or meeting someone from a culture different than your own. Developing the skills to approach and discuss uncomfortable topics (whether that be from the past or current personal beliefs) in a manner that respects ourselves and others is an intention that can go a long way.
(Alicia Bonilla is a Colorado native with a diverse ethnic background on both sides of her family. Bonilla has been involved in multiple organizations including Confluence Ministries and Young Life, serving as a mentor specifically geared toward minoritized populations and inner-city kids on a weekly basis. Bonilla has been fascinated with learning about other cultures since her experience with mission trips to developing countries and her study abroad experience in Europe.
Her writing began as a personal passion, later igniting the desire to share with others around topics in which people from all corners of the world may find interest. Bonilla enjoys recording her global experiences through personal journals and social media platforms.)