Colorado State University on Friday apologized to two Native American brothers who were detained by police when a mother on a campus tour they’d joined earlier this week complained they made her “nervous.”
The college offered to reimburse the New Mexico brothers’ travel expenses and provide a “VIP tour” of the campus.
“We deeply regret the unwelcoming and concerning experience they had while guests on our campus,” said a university statement.
Thomas Kanewakeron Gray, 19, and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, 17, saved up money to make the trip Monday to visit the Fort Collins campus. But after they joined the tour group, a parent “called campus police because she was nervous about the presence of two young men who joined the tour while it was in progress,” said the college statement.
A 911 call from the woman complained about the fact that they were quiet and that their clothing had “dark stuff on it, like dark things.” One wore a T-shirt and the other a sweatshirt with band logos.
Following the call, they were pulled aside and patted down by campus police, then released. It was too late for them to rejoin the tour, and they returned home.
The boys’ mother, Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, complained on Facebook: “My two teenagers were ‘patted down,’ and my 17-year-old ordered to ‘empty his pockets,’ then immediately ordered to ‘keep his hands out of his pockets,’ until he was forced to ask, ‘Which one do you want me to do?’ All of this treatment because some ‘nervous mother’ didn’t like how my boys looked and was unsettled by their quiet presence?”
She told local radio station KUNC that the boys’ treatment constituted “racial profiling” and left them “frantic.”
“I was concerned for my sons’ safety and advised them to return home immediately,” she told the radio station. “Our family is shocked and saddened over this incident of racial profiling, and disappointed that the school didn’t take a more proactive stand in protecting my boys from being shamed in this hostile way.”
She told a local CNN affiliate: “It breaks my heart, because they didn’t do anything to warrant that. They’re walking on their own ancestors’ land, so it breaks my heart.”
The boys’ mother lamented to The Denver Post that it’s “one of their first experiences out in the real world and they run into this cruel world.” She added, “That’s why we have to speak out: my sons need to find the courage to speak out.”
“I think it’s pretty discriminatory,” her son Thomas said Thursday, The Associated Press reported. “Me and my brother just stayed to ourselves the whole time. I guess that was scaring people, that we were just quiet.”
The brothers and their mother have received a written apology from the student who was running the tour. She said that there was “absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about that tour” and that she was unaware of what had happened until the end of the tour.
On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who also chairs Colorado’s Commission of Indian Affairs, issued a statement condemning the incident and said she hoped the brothers would still consider coming to the state for school.
The statement from the university noted: “The emotions released have ranged from sadness to frustration to anger, all flowing from a reservoir of sympathy created by imagining ourselves or our children in this situation. Two young men, through no fault of their own, wound up frightened and humiliated because another campus visitor was concerned about their clothes and overall demeanor, which appears to have simply been shyness. The very idea that someone — anyone — might ‘look’ like they don’t belong on a CSU Admissions tour is anathema.”
As of Friday the family had not responded to the university’s offers to reimburse travel expenses and provide a VIP tour, reported National Public Radio.