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Surprise election as Homecoming queen leads to a government career advocating from within
by Coleman Cornelius | Photo: Colorado State University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
Trudi Morrison was a student activist who pushed for civil rights at Colorado State University.
Between 1968 and 1971, when she graduated with a degree in psychology, Morrison co-founded the Black Student Alliance. She led silent protests during halftime at football and basketball games and held overnight sit-ins at the University president’s home to demand the formation of an African American studies program. She and fellow students objected when the CSU football team played against Brigham Young University because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not allow blacks into its priesthood at that time. She successfully campaigned for an officer’s position in student government to better represent students of color across campus.
Morrison was proud of her outspoken stances as one of just 200 black students in a student body of 17,000.
Then something unexpected happened: Members of the University’s student government nominated Morrison as one of several candidates for 1970 Homecoming queen, a royal position selected through a vote of the entire student body. To her shock, Morrison won. She was the first African American Homecoming queen in University history.
It was an epiphany for her, Morrison said. She realized that working within an organization – as a member of the club – might be an effective way to enact change. With, rather than against.
“It was a shock,” Morrison, 67, recalled of her selection.
“That became a catalyst for me to take action to rectify what I viewed as injustice,” she said.
“CSU gave me the freedom and the framework to understand that power comes from within the system, as opposed to outside the system. Change can come when you’re sitting at the table in a boardroom, or in student government, or at a table in the White House, or with U.S. Senate leadership. That’s how you make change in this country.”
As if to underscore the point, the Washington Post published an extensive profile of Morrison in 1985, headlined “Maverick in the Halls of Power.” A year earlier, she had received the first William E. Morgan Alumni Achievement Award, the Alumni Association’s top honor.
After graduating from CSU, Morrison, who grew up in northeast Denver, earned a law degree from George Washington University, and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan. She embarked on a career spanning more than 30 years as a public servant in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government in Washington, D.C.
In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan hired Morrison as director of the 50 States Project for Women, which aimed to identify and correct state laws discriminating against women. From there, Republican Majority Leader Bob Dole hired Morrison as deputy sergeant-at-arms of the U.S. Senate, a protocol and law-enforcement position that made her, as Morrison explained it, one of only two people with the power to arrest the president. Morrison then worked for 16 years as an officer ensuring fair employment practices within the U.S. courts. On retirement in 2014, Morrison and her husband returned to her native Denver.
Her election decades ago as CSU Homecoming queen was a symbolic first step toward working for equal rights within circles of power, Morrison said.
“I was always battling, throughout my career, for race and gender equity,” she said, “and every one of those battles was worthwhile.”