University says First Amendment 'prohibits' it from punishing students who wore blackface

A Colorado university has refused to punish several white students who posed in blackface, citing the First Amendment as its reason, KDVR reports. 

Last weekend, a photo depicting several white Colorado State University (CSU) students wearing a black substance on their faces surfaced on Instagram. Two of the students are seen crossing their arms over their chest in a mocking tribute to Wakanda, the fictional kingdom in the critically acclaimed film "Black Panther." 

"Wakanda forevaa," the caption reads. 

The photo immediately drew criticism across campus. 

"[They are] mimicking the black culture,” CSU freshman Shierinna Walker told KDVR. 

Others called for the students in the photo to be punished. 

"This is a practice that’s been really offensive to other people and that’s incredibly valid," another student, only identified as Taylor, told the station. 

In a statement on Tuesday, CSU president Joyce McConnell, along with several other administrators, acknowledged the incident but fell short of taking any action against the students. 

"Our community members—students, faculty and staff—can generally post whatever they wish to post on their personal online accounts in accordance with their First Amendment rights," the statement read. "This recent post runs counter to our principles of community, but it does not violate any CSU rule or regulation, and the First Amendment prohibits the university from taking any punitive action against those in the photo."

In response, Walker told KDVR that she was disappointed. 

"The kids had no consequences," she said. "It’s basically encouraging racism."

On Friday, McConnell followed up with another statement explaining several initiatives the university plans to push forth, including encouraging discussions surrounding the college's student code of conduct and hosting a diversity symposium.

"Blackface has a racist history that evokes fear, anger, and sorrow," she said. "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."

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