Colorado College students are like any other group of college students in the world; they flee like rats from a sinking ship as soon as spring break arrives. Students here are also unremarkable in their shoddy email checking habits, but what makes CC special is the student bodies’ aptitude for weathering large-scale incidents of hate speech—incidents that leave parts of the community unscathed and marginalized communities with no choice but to soldier on despite the damages.
Tuesday afternoon, a week into spring break, 878 students and members of faculty and staff received an anti-black racist message specifically targeting Dean Rochelle Mason and Dean Mike Edmonds.
The email called into question the validity of the two deans, using the two-year-old Yik Yak incident as a starting point to assert that the deans, along with the rest of the black CC community, had not actually earned a place at the college; rather, white guilt leading to white generosity is responsible for black students and black faculty enjoying space at an elite institution like Colorado College.
The email goes on to justify its claims against Mason and Edmonds by providing examples and statistics of how black people are apparently ‘inferior.’ The author provides several links to websites, including Breitbart, as ‘evidence’ to prove their point. The message ends with a call for white CC students to act, urging them to stay away from black people, to work to reverse the disciplinary actions of students responsible for disseminating racist hate speech over Yik Yak in 2016, and to fight for the removal of Deans Mason and Edmonds.
After a few hours, CC Communications reacted to the attack. By Sunday, the college had sent six follow-up messages including dispatches from Information Technology Services via Communications. Some messages came directly from President Jill Tiefenthaler, as well as a letter from faculty. Altogether, it was a staggered process that at times felt like discordant triage.
In reactions expressed through social media, many students took issue with the college’s initial characterization of the message as “spam,” saying the message was not “spam”—which is defined on Wikipedia as an unsolicited message often including links to “phishing websites or sites that are hosting malware”—but rather targeted hate speech.
Because the email was received during spring break, most student reactions occurred on social media. Countless students took to Facebook to proclaim that CC is not a place for racism and to express solidarity with black students targeted by the email.
Black students who spoke with The Catalyst largely appreciated the outpouring of support from their friends and appreciated peers standing up against racism, but most felt more appreciative of the support from other black students and faculty.
Much of the school’s black community did not directly receive the email, but the news spread quickly through group chats. Black students sent flowers to both Dean Edmonds and Dean Mason in recognition of the challenges of working at a predominantly white institution.
Black students then organized a letter writing session to generate positive messages for the deans and other black faculty at the school. Many members of the black community did not read the letter in its entirety, attempting to mitigate the violent effects of the message.
The administration’s response to the email had a lukewarm reception among students: “Do I feel supported by the administration? Not that much I guess. But I’m glad they are trying . . . They need to do more,” said Rachel Hyppolite, a senior that has experienced racism during her time here at CC. She has no answers for what the administration should do in regard to this incident, but is joined by countless other students that are skeptical of the school’s response. Some students feel they have possible solutions and continue to work on answers for what the administration to do.
Jane Turnis, Vice President of Communications at the college, said that in the initial investigation, the college’s ITS department confirmed that the message was not a hack. They believe that the emails could have been aggregated using an email address generator reliant on publicly available information, such as the formula of CC email addresses and first and last name of individuals available on the college website or sites like Facebook. President Tiefenthaler also noted there did not appear to be any trends in who the email was sent to on campus.
Turnis confirmed that she had spoken with the CC ITS department, explaining they had recently updated the college firewalls and none of the links included in the email were corrupt. However, it wasn’t until nearly two full days after the college’s initial response to the email when students and faculty were informed in an email update from President Tiefenthaler that, “our email security was not compromised,” she wrote. “We don’t yet know the identity of the sender, or how the email addresses were obtained.”
Turnis also relayed that the investigation had been turned over to the Colorado Springs Police Department, but the ITS inquiry would still continue. Lieutenant Howard Black, the Public Information Officer at CSPD confirmed this: “We are involved in an active criminal investigation on allegations.” Lt. Black cited that the matter became subject to police investigation when officers reviewed the message and believed the behavior had crossed the line for harassment.
A person is described as engaging in harassment, C.R.S. 18-9-111, if the individual “directly or indirectly initiates communication with a person or directs language toward another person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telephone network, data network, text message, instant message, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium in a manner intended to harass or threaten bodily injury or property damage, or makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal by telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium that is obscene,” per the Colorado Revised Statutes.
Furthermore, the statute says an individual may be charged criminally with a class 1 misdemeanor if the person commits harassment with “the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s actual or perceived race; color; religion; ancestry; national origin; physical or mental disability.”
Black noted that the investigation pursues harassing behavior in the message and not “necessarily threatening behavior.” Black believed that the encrypted nature of the message would not be an issue for the criminal investigation. “We stand a very good chance of knowing who this person is,” he said. But he went on to add that in investigations like this, it regularly takes two to three months for warrants to be come back from servers.
Black added that cases like this frequently involve international servers and indicated that such is the case for this investigation. Patrol officers will be in charge of the investigation with help from CSPD’s forensic unit.
“Many times [people] think [they’re] anonymous, and [they] have to be responsible for [their] words,” Black cautioned in summarizing remarks. “Words can hurt, they can be a criminal violation, so we just ask people to be thoughtful before they write or before they make statements.”
As Black suggested, the magnitude of the email author’s words has had an impact that extends beyond campus—after countless alumni heard of the email, CCASCA (The Colorado College Alumni and Students of Color Association) organized an online Facebook event to coordinate a collective response and draft an email in response. This CCASCA email has accumulated almost 200 signatures from alumni of graduating classes as far back as 1966 and as recent as 2017.
Raidel Moreno ‘17 remembers vividly how hard it was to be a person of color on campus and describes how most alum of color leave the campus after years hardship and don’t look back.
He is echoed by Gianina Horton, a member of CCASCA that graduated in 2014. Horton describes the work it took to get CCASCA started and says that working through years of distrust hasn’t been easy, but that the alumni are here to help.
CCASCA has begun conversations with the Butler Center and hope to create channels of communication with current students in the near future. “What we’re trying to do is actually amplify the humanity of the black community, the LBGQTIA+ community, and the community of color that actually reside there on Colorado College’s campus,” said Horton on behalf of CCASCA.
Like most alumni, Moreno was disappointed with the college’s response. “It was basically the same-old-same-old that we’re going to open up this space so you can cry out your feeling and then we’ll move on,” he said.
He went on to describe a cycle of combating racism on campus that is dependent on constant activism from black students. Moreno remarked that when graduating in 2017, it seemed like progress was being made; however, upon returning to visit the school a few weeks ago, he said it felt as isolating as it did when he first started at CC.
The total anonymity of the email bears a striking resemblance to the initial anonymity of the Yik Yak incident two years ago—the unknown identity of the sender only exacerbates the message’s ability to inflict harm. The lingering presence of white supremacy lurking just beneath the surface of campus life while it’s perpetrators remain anonymous makes campus feel unsafe for many students.
CSPD appeared more confident than ITS about tracking down the individual who sent the message via encrypted email service. Drew Harper, ITS User Support Specialist/Cloud Support, said encrypted email services make things particularly difficult.
“They really do make their way by advertising these types of things…that it’s not really traceable back and that it can’t really be grabbed and dissected,” said Harper. “We can check names and IP addresses” but encrypted services, “…really [put] us in a bind for being able trace things.”
Popular encrypted email services advertise being able to limit what personal data is accessible to companies who obtain your email to providing users with “end-to-end (to end) email encryption. With a suite of security tools at [users] disposal, including two-factor authentication and self-destructing message protections,” according to ipvanish.com.
Preventing such messages is “kind of like being able to prevent junk mail from showing up at your house,” said Harper. The college has not indicated what it will do to attempt stopping these messages, but there will be an increase in physical security on campus in response to the message by adding to existing security patrols and increasing patrols by CSPD on- and off-campus in the surrounding neighborhood at night. Many black students have expressed concerns with increased police presence.
The college also directed students to the Chaplain’s Office, The Butler Center, The Wellness Resource Center, and The Counseling Center—where fees for students and faculty may be waived—and supportive gatherings held on campus over the break. Messages also advertised “healing and dialogue sessions” that would occur during block 7 and advised students to standby for more information regarding future plans for conversation.
Further dialogue promised by the college comes with a grain of salt for many members of the CC community. A chief complaint in the initial responses on social media has been that black students and students of color are often relied upon to perform emotional labor for explaining racism to their white peers.
Many white students have struggled with how to react to the situation and have sought out their black peers to provide answers; answers the black community is reticent or refuses to provide.
“I don’t get paid to do this—The Butler Center gets paid to do this, professors get paid to do this,” said Atiya Harvey ‘18. “I don’t get paid to do this. So when I see or hear some people do some sh*t, I’m like ‘Take a class. Talk to someone not me. Bye.’” Harvey went on to state that her obligations are not to help the school solve its race issues, but to focus on her education and graduate as soon as possible.
Activism led by black students has fluctuated throughout the years, but after conversations with vocal members of the black community, it doesn’t appear that black activism will be the response to this email. “I am not sitting on the front lines I am not arguing people down for this sh*t anymore because I can’t do it at this point in my life, I have a lot to give but it is really hard,” said Harvey.
The feeling of burn-out is pervasive among students of color, so many of them have focused on healing: “It’s really easy to be like, ‘This happened. I’m mad. Let’s do a march right now,’ but it’s good to acknowledge that this happened,” said Hyppolite. “I’m really hurt. Let’s tend to my wounds first, and then walk on.”
As the school marshalled their response, awareness of student reactions and the student body’s mood seemed to slowly color their emails.
With each additional communique from the college, language characterizing the email grew sharper and more pointed, changing from an “extremely hurtful” and “white-supremacist” message to a “white-supremacist, sexist, and anti-trans message [that] invoked harmful stereotypes, and used vitriolic language intended to hurt our communities of color, especially our black community” in the fourth message from the college and the second from President Tiefenthaler.
Language addressing the personal attacks included in the message against Dean Edmonds and Dean Mason also became more frequent and more incisive in subsequent messages; the attacks were first addressed as “target[ing] wonderful campus leaders who have spent years working to make CC a more inclusive, supportive living and learning community” and pledging full support.
Dean Edmonds and Dean Mason have respectfully declined to comment on the incident.
While further emails from communications and the President called for continued support, the faculty response delivered the most acerbic language. Sunday’s faculty letter to the student body called the email “targeted, anti-Black, racist, sexist and transantagonistic attack on Deans Rochelle Mason and Mike Edmonds.”
It is important to note that this incident does not surprise many students of color on Colorado College’s campus. Racist incidents on campus have included the Yik Yak incident in 2016 and this current email, but these are not isolated occurrences.
Feb. 24 a Facebook group open to exclusively to CC students, Free and For Sale, caught fire as one white student attempted to apologize for a prior insensitive post seeking cornrows. The post featured upwards of 100 comments, with students of color responding voraciously to the insinuation that an apology was not needed.
In 2017, both the PRIDE and Revitalizing Nations Living Learning Communities were vandalized. The PRIDE LLC had anti-queer sentiments scrawled on bathroom walls like “F**k F******”, “Die T*****s”, and “#TrumpAmerica.” Meanwhile, the Revitalizing Nations LLC had bulletin boards pulled down and pro-trump messages were written in their place.
Aside from larger hate crimes and major incidents, students of color report experiencing countless microaggressions during their attendance at the predominantly white institution. Incidents include questionable behavior from peers and professors alike, and at times settings feel openly hostile.
Harvey recounted some of her experiences: “My freshman year it was me, [a friend] and a bunch of other women of color that did Bridge.” We went to the basketball house, and they were playing trap music . . . This trap song comes on and [another friend] starts rapping . . . This f**king white dude . . . He says, ‘there’s too many ratchets in here for me to play this song,’ and skips it.”
Harvey went on to describe other parties where she has been told “ratchet is the best type of black” and where student DJ’s proclaim they will take the crowd “to church” shortly before introducing gospel music to rowdy CC partygoers. Her experiences reflect a common narrative for students of color on campus—one where students constantly feel overburdened and under protected. Moreno is one of many fed up with this status quo.
“The school needs to stop asking students to negotiate this is not a negotiation. We NEED more safe spaces,” said Moreno. He continued to admonish the college: “Listen to your students,” he said. “It is so emotionally taxing to constantly speak up…. If I had the option I wouldn’t have done it, but I don’t have the option and I understand that’s the reality of things.”