FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Freshman Leana Kaplan was one of four Colorado State University students pictured in an Instagram story wearing blackface, with text on the photo reading “Wakanda forevaa,” a reference to Marvel’s "Black Panther."
The photo quickly went viral and was widely criticized.
Below is her full, unedited statement explaining the circumstances surrounding the photo and in response to the backlash she has received since being publicly identified. It was emailed to the Coloradoan on Friday, Sept. 13, by her father, Les Kaplan.
"On September 8, 2019, I was involved with three other freshman students (all males) in an incident on my dormitory floor. Our behavior was photographed by another student. This photo went viral, hurting other students and changing me forever. This photo of four white students in black face is indeed horrendous, and understandably appears to portray four racists making fun of African Americans.
The hurtful impact of this photo on minorities is real, but this photo is not the whole story. I am not going to allow a photo, the news media nor CSU to do the talking for me. Just as those who have been hurt have a voice, so do I, and I too am entitled to be heard no less than those who have been offended. No, this is not about me, but if there are lessens to be learned, the story behind the photo and the blond girl wearing black face surround by yet-to-be identified boys needs to be told.
CSU President Joyce McConnell released a statement on Facebook Friday afternoon responding to the incident.
Dear CSU Community,
Our students, faculty, staff, and alumni were deeply harmed, hurt, frightened, and angered by a photo posted on Instagram last weekend by a CSU student. We promised that we would respond with action, and we uphold that promise. Blackface has a racist history that evokes fear, anger, and sorrow. It is a dehumanizing practice that continues today, and it is despicable. As your President, I will lead the work that we must do together to stand against racism on our campuses and in our community.
Those impacted by these incidents tell us they have not felt heard, respected, or healed by our response so far. Here are some immediate actions we will take to deepen our understanding of the dynamics of racism, the damage it does to our community, and how we can fight it together.
Fund Student-Led Initiatives: In the next few weeks, we will call for formal proposals from students for implementable initiatives to combat racism at CSU.
Fund Faculty/Staff-Led Initiatives: In the next few weeks, we will call for formal proposals from faculty and staff for implementable initiatives to combat racism at CSU.
Student Conduct Code discussions: This semester, we will invite all CSU students to participate in open discussions about the CSU Student Conduct Code: what it is, what conduct it covers, where the First Amendment intersects with the code, and other questions.
Diversity Symposium Event: I am already planning to sit down with our Vice President for Diversity, Vice President Mary Ontiveros, for a candid conversation, Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at the LSC. Our conversation will focus on how we can work together to truly address racism on our campus. Our conversation will be part of the upcoming campus-wide Diversity Symposium (October 14-18), which features extensive, dynamic programming, including keynote speaker Kimberlé Crenshaw. We urge all campus community members to attend the Symposium.
Candid Conversations: In October, I will invite all of our students of color to a candid conversation with me, Vice President Ontiveros, and Dr. Blanche Hughes, Vice President for Student Affairs. On October 31, all our students are invited to an Open Forum conversation with me.
There is much more in the works, all of which we will share with you. But we also want to hear from you. I invite every member of the CSU community to email my office directly (email@example.com) with your constructive and actionable ideas for next steps we can take to heal our community."
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