On the evening of Saturday, May 1, the annual CSU Undie Run returned to the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, and despite harsh warnings from the administration and a little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 800-plus people took part, with the majority skipping masks (along with most of their clothing) and ignoring social distancing.
A video of the event shows scads of participants shoulder to shoulder and skin to skin, including a group that gathered in a circle to watch a pair of scantily clad young women wrestle.
The CSU Undie Run has been taking place for more than ten years, drawing crowds as large as 5,000, and during the period when it was known as B.A.R.E. (an acronym for "Body Acceptance Run Extravaganza"), it had a charitable component; clothes dumped by the participants were donated to the needy. But then came 2015, when the run took place in the rain and the garb got so moldy that it had to be discarded, at a cost to CSU of an estimated $15,000.
Such outlays weren't the only reason the university's brain trust hated the Undie Run. In advance of the 2019 event, CSU Dean of Students Jody Donovan cited possible liability should anyone get injured or facilities be damaged (in the past, hoops had been broken off basketball backboards, among other things). In addition, Donovan emphasized "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."
Because of these concerns, CSU sent out an email blast in the weeks leading up to the 2019 extravaganza stating bluntly: "The university will not allow the 'undie run' to take place this year." But the run happened anyhow, albeit with lower-than-usual attendance of approximately 800 — in the same range as the 2021 version.
COVID-19 put the kibosh on a huge 2020 run; a still-lingering Facebook page for a proposed get-together counts just 21 responses, with six people saying they attended and fifteen listing themselves as "interested." But reviving the run became an issue in CSU student elections earlier this year; the Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU's student newspaper, reported in March that one slate of candidates argued that the university should sanction the event, given that it would happen anyway.
Those hopefuls didn't win the race, but they were right about the Undie Run. Over the past month or so, social media posts began hyping its return, prompting CSU to email a strong "Message to Undie Run Organizers and Those Considering Attending." The text also appears on the university's website.
Dear CSU students:
We know that the non-university-sponsored undie run is scheduled for May 1. This run is unauthorized and not approved by the university.
This email is a direct message to the run organizers and to anyone considering attending.
To those considering attending:
• We ask that none of you participate in or attend the run. The run has never been approved, organized or supported by the university. Among other things, it poses a safety concern to our community.
• This year, there is an added concern for public health, exposing yourself and others to COVID, including new and more contagious variants.
• The undie run has historically been an occasion where non-consensual groping has occurred. If you choose to go, ask for explicit, verbal consent before touching another person. If someone chooses to assault you, you can contact CSUPD at 970-491-6425 or by telling an officer in person, or contact the CSU Victim Assistance Team 24-hour hotline at 970-492-4242.
• The run is touted as a CSU student tradition. However, most years it has not been organized by students.
Non-students who are not part of the CSU community attend the event every year for the sole purpose of taking photos and videos of participants in their underwear (without their permission), and then keep those photos for personal use or to post online. The university — and participants — have no control over how those photos are used or distributed.
• The run annually costs the university between $10,000-$15,000 in your tuition money due to damages to property and safety concerns. Since the run began several years ago, the university has spent approximately $165,000-170,000 of student money to cover these costs.
• Police will be present to identify any individuals who are involved in illegal activity. Students also will be held accountable through the conduct system.
To the organizers of the event:
• We have been notified by Larimer County that this unauthorized gathering is in violation of current public health guidance. You may be held civilly and criminally responsible for violating those orders.
• Violation of a public health order is a misdemeanor and can be punished by a fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail. You also can be held responsible for the costs of abating any resulting illnesses.
• Any organized event on university property also requires the organizers to purchase liability insurance. If anyone is injured or harmed, you can be held legally and financially responsible.
• Individuals organizing or promoting this event, including on social media accounts, are responsible for this event and its consequences.
The message didn't cow either organizers or the hordes of young men and women itching to strip down to their skivvies and dash about in public. As evidence, here's a video of this year's festivities:
More such clips appear on the CSU Undie Run Instagram page, including this one:
In the wake of the 2021 Undie Run, a change.org petition has been posted under the title, "Colorado State University: Hold Undie Run 2021 Attendees Accountable." Addressed to the CSU administration, it begins: "Every year Colorado State University Administration tells the student body that those who organize, promote, and attend the Undie Run will be held accountable for their actions. Every year CSU fails to follow through with any sort of repercussion, thus condoning this behavior."
Most years, the petition contends, "this results in property damage, sexual assault cases, and thousands of dollars of our tuition being wasted. But, this year's Undie Run is in direct violation of the Larimer County Public Health Ordinance that was put into place due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This puts the entire student body and greater Fort Collins community at risk."
The petition concludes: "This is an embarrassment to this institution and reflects poorly on its students and faculty. If these actions once again go unpunished the CSU administration is sending a direct message that they do not care for the health and safety of Larimer County and the families students will be going home to in two short weeks. This cannot go unpunished once again as we are still battling a pandemic that has already taken the lives of over 6,000 Colorado residents. This is unacceptable."
By this morning, the petition had been signed by 32 people.
Westword has reached out to CSU as well as Larimer County's law enforcement and public-health agencies regarding this year's run, but has not yet received responses.
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