On April 30, two brothers visited Colorado State University (CSU) when a parent on their campus tour called the police, The New York Times reports. The brothers — Thomas Kanewakeron Gray, 19, and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, 17 — are both Native American, and had traveled seven hours from Santa Cruz, New Mexico to visit the school.
According to audio from the 911 call released by CSU’s safety team, the police were called by a woman who alleged that the brothers were “not a part” of their tour. She described the two students as having “really odd” behavior, claiming that they “stand out” and they were wearing clothing with “really weird symbolism” on it. (As noted by the New York Times, the brothers were both wearing shirts depicting band logos.)
The Times also reports that when police responded to the call, they pulled Thomas and Lloyd away from the tour for questioning. Body camera footage from the incident shows an officer talking with the brothers by a stairwell in the school, asking questions about their visit. Thomas and Lloyd were eventually able to rejoin the tour, but the guide had reportedly already moved on, and they weren’t able to catch up.
In an interview with the Denver Post, Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, Thomas and Lloyd’s mother, claims that the parent called the police on her sons because “they were too quiet.” She added: “They were trying to listen. Why should it be a crime to listen and not engage in a conversation?” In a Facebook post written the day of the tour, Gray said that her sons “had been the victim of racism and that they weren’t safe there,” adding that she was “so furious” she “could explode.”
Gray also told the Denver Post that the incident “breaks her heart,” and that she was mostly upset with the campus tour guide, who allegedly didn’t realize that the police had escorted the students away from the tour. “Wouldn’t you say something if you saw police take away people out of your group?” Gray asked.
CSU has issued several apologies in the wake of the incident. On Friday, May 4, the school tweeted that they have made several attempts to contact the Gray family, and that they “deeply regret the unwelcoming and concerning experience they had while guests on our campus.” That same day, the school also offered to refund any expenses that the family incurred during their travels, and they invited the Gray family back to campus for a VIP tour with all expenses covered.
In a message posted to CSU’s website, President Dr. Tony Frank announced that the school’s administration would be “meeting to discuss potential changes to how we manage campus tours,” and they will be developing new protocol for tour guides. Frank added that these measures are “obviously small steps,” but he is concerned about the “big strides we need to make as a culture and a campus.” He went on to say: “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. People of all races, gender identities, orientations, cultures, religions, heritages, and appearances belong here.”
Frank’s note to the CSU community also recognizes his own privilege. “I make that declarative statement from within a glass house: a white man in a position of authority,” the university president wrote. “I have, in my own journey, come to believe that privilege is like someone shining a bright light in our eyes; it makes it hard to see things that others can see unless we force our eyes to adapt. It’s my personal hope that I’ll continue to get better at doing this, and that by doing so I’ll become a better president, colleague, and human being.”
Nevertheless, for the Gray family, the damage might have already been done. “It is one of their first experiences out in the real world and they run into this cruel world,” Thomas and Lloyd’s mother explained. “That’s why we have to speak out, my sons need to find the courage to speak out.”
Teen Vogue has reached out to CSU for further comment.
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