At 7 p.m. on Friday, May 10, the 2019 version of the CSU Undie Run is scheduled to get underway at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. And while CSU officials are working hard to kill a gathering that in recent years has attracted between 3,000 and 5,000 often intoxicated participants eager to strip to their underwear and race around campus, they've readied some surprises in case crowds arrive anyhow.
"We have some responses planned," says Jody Donovan, CSU's dean of students. "Right now, I can't share those."
The Undie Run has a Facebook event page, and while those behind it didn't reply to Westword's inquiries in advance of this post, we received a response after publication. "It's funny that a generation that's trying to shut down the Undie Run are people who participated in 'College Days,' which caused over one hundred to be arrested and around one hundred hurt," the anonymous individual wrote. (Click for more information about the 1987 "College Days" melee at CSU.) "This event doesn't even compare. This event helps with relieving stress before finals. It's an event meant for students to be themselves and have fun, instead of being engulfed by stress, anxiety and depression caused by studying and pulling 'all-nighters.'"
CSU's Donovan confirms that the university has no idea who the current Undie Run's organizers are, despite efforts to determine their identity. "We've looked, and we know there are people who've made Facebook comments who are not students," she notes, "and participants in past years have included non-students. Our hunch is that it's possible the organizer may not be a student or even somebody who lives in Fort Collins."
The story was different in 2014 and 2015, when CSU student Deep Badhesha oversaw the gathering; his first year, it was known as the Undie Run, while the next edition was dubbed B.A.R.E., an acronym for "Body Acceptance Run Extravaganza." But Badhesha, currently a University of Colorado Boulder law student who helped coordinate opposition to the naming of Mark Kennedy as the CU system's president, is hardly a supporter of the current concept.
"We tried to save it," Badhesha says. "But after I left, I don't think it was savable."
In late April, CSU blasted an email to its distribution list presenting the arguments against taking part in the Undie Run. A line in its introduction states plainly that "the university will not allow the 'undie run' to take place this year."
This language raises the possibility that CSU will try some of the tactics used by CU Boulder to shut down the long-running 4/20 smoke-out earlier this decade; they included closing the campus to everyone other than students and staffers with a current ID card, a heavy security presence and even spreading pungent fish fertilizer in areas where revelers were known to light up.
Donovan declines to either confirm or deny speculation about strategy this year while she traces the Undie Run's history.
"Folks have shared with me that perhaps it started in 2008," she allows, "but my memory is from 2009. Then, it was kind of a stress-reliever flash mob in Morgan Library, where at a certain time everybody got up from their desks and screamed and ran around and got stuck in the revolving door."
After that, she goes on, "the dean of the library asked for some help in getting it out of the library, because it was disruptive and they were worried there was going to be more damage than just to the revolving door. So the next year, it went out to the Lory Student Center Plaza."
When the event took place inside the library, Donovan estimates that the number of runners was south of 200, and when it moved to the plaza, attendance was in the 300 to 500 range. But then, she reveals, "it moved onto a city street. Afterward, the Fort Collins police met with us and said, 'This is really dangerous. There's traffic on that street. Can you help us get it on campus rather than on a city street?'"
Enter Badhesha. "I was actually approached by the president's office," he recalls. "I worked closely with Jody Donovan and the dean at the time, as well as with police officers and philanthropic organizations so we could collect the clothing everyone took off and donate it. The donations were first and foremost, and even though the university offered some support, it was very much student-led."
Unfortunately, the charity component backfired. In 2014, according to CSU estimates, 7,745 pounds of clothing were left behind, but only 1,683 pounds worth was actually donated; the rest wasn't in good enough shape. And in 2015, the run took place in the rain, and the clothing became so moldy that all of it had to be discarded at a cost to the university of around $15,000.
That was only the beginning of the expenses — and the headaches. As the turnout swelled, Donovan says, "the behavior escalated in terms of problems. There was a year where students ran through a parking lot by our student center, and some of the participants ran on the tops of cars, doing all kinds of damage to the roofs. We've had issues with students ruining landscaping: the grasses, the flowers, the rock-beds. We've had students climbing basketball hoops and standing on them, which broke the hoops and the backboards. And we've had some injuries. A couple of years ago, an intoxicated participant fell down a bunch of stairs and required treatment; we had to call an ambulance. We've had a number of slips and falls and bruises and scrapes and things that we can document. And there was a run participant who got into his car and hit a bunch of other cars one year."
Worse, Donovan continues, are "the harms that might have been done in terms of groping and sexual misconduct — the blurred boundaries that often happen during the run and then afterward."
The aforementioned Undie Run spokesperson also weighed in on these subjects: "No one's forcing students to go to this event. It's their own responsibility to not put themselves in a situation that could cause harm to themselves. Also, with the sexual misconduct talk, yes, of course, sexual misconduct is bad and I do not condone that kind of conduct. But like I said, it is their choice if they want to attend this event. It's always recommended that you stay with a group and watch over each other."
Even during the Badhesha years, CSU didn't sponsor the Undie Run, but Donovan understands why there might have been some confusion about that. "Because our staff cares about students and realized this was an unsafe thing, many of us would attend on that night to block traffic and things like that. It was completely around safety, but we learned from students that it was a mixed message. They thought because we were there, we were supportive of the event. And we don't support it."
This year, the messaging lacks such ambiguity. The aforementioned email prominently mentions that volunteers will work to prevent crowds from gathering and police will use video footage to identify alleged perpetrators of crime, whether it involves property or people. Donovan thinks this shift has already paid dividends.
"We've had fabulous conversations with students, parents and family members about why the university has come out so strongly about ending this," she says. "And I feel like the whole campus is engaged in this dialogue. We want everyone to know that this isn't a CSU tradition. It isn't a tradition at all."
Here's the Colorado State University email about the 2019 Undie Run.
DEAR CSU STUDENTS AND CAMPUS COMMUNITY MEMBERS,
Due to significant concerns about safety for CSU students and others who participate who are not members of our campus community, the university will not allow the "undie run" to take place this year.
In several instances, the run has not been organized by currently enrolled students. The run has never been approved, organized or supported by the university, and each year we have conveyed to students the safety risks and financial costs of the event to discourage participation. Large police and staff presence in the past has occurred only to monitor the run for student protection.
The university asks that you not participate in efforts to continue to hold the run and that you not come to campus with the intent to participate in the run. Please take a moment to read this to better understand why the run will no longer take place.
While students view the run as a tradition and an opportunity to blow off steam before finals, the reality of the environment it creates on campus and in the city before, during, and after the run is much different. The university has, and has always had, significant concerns about this event.
Here are the reasons we’re not allowing the run to occur anymore:
• The run invokes an atmosphere of public intoxication and behavior that risks personal injury or serious injury to others and sexual misconduct. Past participants, particularly women, have reported groping and sexual assault during the run and at after-parties. The run creates an environment where this sort of behavior more easily occurs.
• CSU staff and faculty observe people — including non- students and other adults who are not part of our community — who come to the run only to take photographs and videos of participants without the participants’ knowledge or permission. The photo takers keep those images for their personal use or post it online. The university — and you as a participant – have no control over how images of you captured in public are used. This is extremely concerning to us and should be to all participants.
• We estimate that, since the run began several years ago, the university has spent more than $150,000 in student tuition and fee money to cover the costs of property damage caused by participants and to pay for security.
• CSU students perceive participants to be fellow Rams; however, we know that young high school students from the area also participate, as do adults who are not attending any school, and those who attend neighboring universities and community colleges. These participants and bystanders are not invested in the safety and reputation of our community.
The university is asking that you not organize or participate in the run or any similar activity.
Unfortunately, we realize that individuals – both CSU students and non-students — may disregard these concerns. To those who may disregard the safety of our community, please consider:
Police will monitor the behavior of those who make the decision to participate and will take enforcement action for any criminal offenses. University volunteers will be on site to prevent a crowd from assembling on campus, in accordance with our policy that does not allow an unauthorized crowd to gather on campus in the evening for non-university-sanctioned events, large assemblies, and expressive activities other than for official university business.
If there is an indication that there will continue to be plans to assemble, there will be a heightened police presence on campus and off campus. If there are plans to assemble off campus, police and university volunteers will also respond. If people assemble, police will take video of the area. Images will be used to follow up on complaints and potential criminal incidents to identify individuals who behave inappropriately. The university will work with police to hold students accountable through the legal and student conduct process. If non-CSU students engage in inappropriate or criminal behavior, CSU may take enforcement action and will share information with other entities and agencies that can hold those individuals accountable, including high schools, universities, and other police agencies.
If at any time while you are on campus you are touched inappropriately, please note your location and try to get a detailed description of the person who touched you. Please report this information to CSUPD police as soon as possible. If you touch others inappropriately, the university will choose to share your description or an image of you with the public in an effort to identify you and hold you accountable for your actions.
If you experience unwanted sexual touching or need to talk with someone about sexual assault or misconduct, please contact the victims advocate team at CSU on its confidential, 24-hour hotline at 970-492-4242.
Next fall, the university will create a committee, which would include students as members, to consider proposals from students for an alternative, safe springtime event.
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Please help us end this unauthorized gathering, which causes harm to your fellow Rams.
The Public Safety Team
Editor's note: This post has been updated to include comments from a contact with the 2019 Undie Run Facebook page.