Exploring controversial topics is part of the shared history of American collegiate institutions, places where by definition viewpoints and counter-viewpoints meet and ideas are explored in a mutually respectful environment. Colorado State University has always been part of this tradition and a staunch supporter of the constitutionally protected right to free speech. Throughout its nearly century-and-a-half history, CSU’s campus has hosted speakers who incited strong opinions, and has been a platform for faculty, students, activists and local citizens expressing their reactions to national and international events.
History of Activism & Controversial Speakers on Campus
October 1935 – Colorado State College welcomed Count DiSan Marzano, Italy’s consul in Denver, to campus to explain the invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini’s army. The audience listened politely, but at the end of his remarks, campus librarian Charlotte Baker spoke out against Italy’s action, saying it could not be condoned.
April 22, 1937 – The campus joined colleges and universities around the county in a “peace strike.” The day involved a one-day suspension of classes so students, faculty and others could devote themselves to a discussion of peace on the eve of the second World War.
Oct. 18, 1968 – To protest the lack of student input over the operations of the student-fee funded Lory Student Center, Doug Phelps, president of the student body, led a week-long takeover of the center that culminated in a “beer-in.” In violation of University policy, Phelps and others brought in cases of Coors to demand the LSC sell 3.2 beer. Beer sales began in the Ramskeller the following year.
1968 – Mirroring national civil rights movements, African American and Mexican American students on campus organized and presented a list of joint demands to the CSU administration. The demands echoed those of the Colorado Civil Right Commission a year earlier, and focused on the need to increase the number of minority students, faculty and staff on campus. In April, a delegation of the coalition appeared before the university’s governing body, the State Board of Agriculture, while other students peacefully occupied the Administration Building and later moved to the lawn of the president’s residence.
Nov. 14, 1968 – A group of 15 people broke into the Agriculture Building (now the Shepardson Building) and barricaded themselves on the second floor, with doors nailed shut, in a protest against Dow Chemical recruiting on campus. At 8:20 a.m., campus and city police moved into the building and arrested the occupants, 10 of whom were CSU students.
Fall 1969 – In an attempt to gain amnesty for those arrested the previous year for occupying the Agriculture Building, 11 students occupied the Administration Building. The students were arrested and eventually fined $10 each after pleading no contest in Larimer County court.
Feb. 4, 1970 – A formal protest regarding the Mormon Church’s treatment of African-Americans was held at Moby Arena during the CSU-Brigham Young University men’s basketball game. Administration allowed a brief pre-game protest ceremony, but at halftime, students stormed the court. Dean of Students Burns Crookston implored the students to leave the floor. Fighting broke out when a white student cleaning the gymnasium deliberately pushed a broom into the protesting students. Fort Collins riot police arrived and forcibly cleared the court as objects were thrown down from the stands, including a firebomb and an angle iron. This incident contributed to an already tense and strained school year.
April 7, 1970 – Abbie Hoffman, a political and social activist who had been arrested and tried for conspiracy and inciting a riot for his role in protests of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, spoke at CSU at the invitation of the University’s Special Events Board. He opened his lecture to 2,000 people with “Welcome to Colorado State Penitentiary!”
May 7-8, 1970 – A student strike supported by many faculty members was held on the LSC Plaza, protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia; 2,000 people marched from there to Fort Collins City Hall.
On May 8, an unknown arsonist set Old Main (the oldest building on campus) ablaze. There was also an unsuccessful attempt to burn the ROTC Firing Range Building. Though the fires were never directly connected to any person or movement, the incidents marked a tense period on campus and in the Fort Collins community.
1984 – Jazz poet and spoken-word legend Gil Scott-Heron appeared on the Lory Student Center Plaza to sing his song, “Re-Ron,” in protest of Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign.
1985 – Associated Students of CSU President Jim DeFede, in partnership with The Collegian, led hundreds of CSU students in a walkout and strike to protest tuition increases and lack of state funding for higher education.
June 25, 2010 – Members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested the student-created “undie run.” The event was met by counter-protestors and the groups were kept separate by CSU police. (This was one of several times the Kansas-based church came to campus; members also appeared following the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998.)
Oct. 9, 2014 – A self-identified transient attacked a preacher on the LSC Plaza. The preacher told police he had been standing on a stool preaching when he was interrupted by the transient, who confronted the preacher verbally, slapped him repeatedly, threw his dry-erase board under a tree, and eventually punched him in the jaw. The transient was later arrested and charged with assault.
Dec. 4, 2014 – Students staged a “die-in,” a silent protest of deaths of African Americans killed by police officers, in the main lobby of the Lory Student Center. A group of approximately 30 students lay on the floor in the LSC, some holding signs relating to police brutality and white supremacy.
November 2015 – Hundreds of students, faculty and staff joined in a student-organized march from the Administration Building to the Lory Student Center, in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri who were protesting racist incidents and culture on that campus and in higher education.
October 2016 – The first of three “Free Speech walls” was built from cardboard boxes on the Lory Student Center Plaza by student organizations and designated as a place for anyone to write what they wanted. The events were sponsored by conservative political groups and led to conflict between students promoting the walls and students who believed the walls were designed to send an anti-immigration message on campus.
November 2016 – The Dreamers United student organization held a demonstration on the Lory Student Center Plaza in support of undocumented students and immigrants.