Black Student Union Petition Fights Complacency on Campus

Black students at Colorado College are calling for action on the part of the school administration regarding the hostile, racist email sent to much of the student body and faculty. Most recently, they wrote a petition specifically outlining what policy changes and implementations need to be made at the school-wide level.

It has been over three weeks since the email was sent and received. Almost immediately following, President Jill Tiefenthaler released a statement on behalf of the institution, insisting that “diversity and inclusion are two of our shared core values,” and acknowledging that “our communities of color are especially hurting, with many understandably feeling anger and fear for their safety.”

In this email statement, Tiefenthaler promised “supportive gatherings on campus” and a “robust lineup of events in Block 7 for deeper examination of racism and sexism.” Tiefenthaler also pledged that the school would “work on ways to strengthen and empower our community to call out racism in all its forms every day on campus and commit to cultivating an inclusive campus culture that recognizes the various intersections of identities that make up the CC community.”

While well-intentioned, Tiefenthaler failed to mention any specific policy implementations to work toward said inclusive, safe, campus atmosphere. As such, many students of color were left feeling upset, ignored, and invalidated. On Wednesday, Sophomore member of the Black Student Union Cam Kaplan tabled in the Worner Campus Center lobby to gain more signatures on their petition regarding this problem.

“In essence, the letter gives a concrete nature to black students’ complaints,” Kaplan said.  She made it clear that while the authors appreciated the overwhelming amount of support and help that was offered to write the letter, it was important to them that the black voices the letter seeks to represent be penned by them themselves.

Kaplan also said that she had come across a list of demands made by the CC BSU dating all the way back to 1972 with many of the same or similar concerns to the ones found in the letter today. “It just goes to show how slowly actions are taken by the institution to improve life at CC for its students of color.”

She also expressed how detrimental CC’s skewed projection of how “inclusive” and “diverse” the institution really is to students who initially buy into it and make the decision to attend CC. “The school that I applied to is not the school that I got. The institution, and especially admissions, is manipulative in its presentation of the on-campus atmosphere. There’s a level of dishonesty about diversity and safe space for people of color. You get what you get here and you learn that fast.”

Finally, Kaplan discussed how important it is that students sign the petition as soon as possible, as it will be presented at the faculty meeting this Wednesday. “Originally, we were told we were being given a meeting with faculty but it turns out we only get 10 minutes to speak, and only two speakers,” Kaplan explained.

“We need to make as much of an impression as we possibly can,” said Kaplan. She went on to highlight that, even if these discussions wouldn’t normally surface in your specific class, this conversation is critical across all disciplines as the common denominator is CC community members; all members of the CC community have a role to play in bettering the institution

The demands listed throughout the letter are consistent with Kaplan’s testimony. Among the requests are to hire more people of color as professors, faculty, and staff, strengthening the all-college education requirements of Social Inequality and Global Cultures courses, and increasing funding and staffing for the Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies program, known as REMS.

Professor of REMS Dwanna Robertson spoke to this: “Professors of color are expected to do more than other professors. Besides teaching, advising, researching, and publishing, we bear the responsibility of representing all students of color, whether or not they are the same race or ethnicity, because we are lumped together as minorities,” she said. “The more professors and faculty of color there are, the more individualized support students of color can receive in this environment.” She also spoke to how the type of information found in “G” and “S” credit classes, a requirement which most REMS classes fulfill, must be taught more widely across disciplines so that students are exposed to it for more than a single, mandatory Block.       

But how does one tangibly define the kind of racism that exists in our community? On Friday, April 6, Associate Professor of Anthropology Christina Leza and the students in her current Block, The Language of Racism, held a discussion regarding how to create a fully-inclusive, anti-racist campus environment. An important distinction made early on by the discussion group was the difference between folk theory racism and covert racism.

The initial email that targeted students and faculty of color is an example of folk theory racism. “There’s this ideology of personalism—that racism is something that, for the most part, was done away with in the United States with the civil rights movement,” said Leza. “But you still have individuals that have these deep-seeded personal feelings about other races, and that they’re the ones who perpetuate racism … isolates the concept of racism to just a few people in society.”

Folk theory racism is what most easily and most typically arises when discussing racism: neo-Nazis marching in the streets, people hanging up Confederate flags, police targeting and killing innocent people of color. Folk theory is made up of individual cases that so blatantly demonstrate racism on the part of the perpetrator.

Covert racism, however, is more nuanced and more prevalent than folk theory racism, especially in our campus environment. “When we really look at the nature of how racism works, and how it gets reproduced, we see that everyone is involved in reproducing racism,” Leza said. “White Americans tend to reproduce it very unthinkingly because racist reproductions don’t really affect them directly and there’s no need for white Americans to really challenge the way racism is reproduced because they sit on the top of the racial hierarchy in the U.S.”

Leza explained how among white people, the absence of traditional notions of folk theory racism in one’s actions leads to the false belief that they do not contribute to racist societal structures. The group discussion delved into some of the little things that make up covert racism, such as the use of African-American Vernacular English by non-black people for its association with party culture, or one’s failure to correct a friend or family member who makes a racist comment due to the fear of being uncomfortable or of hurting their relationship with them.

“It’s so easy for people to be like, ‘Oh, I’ve never said the n-word,’” said first-year Samuel Vang. “Yet you hear these drunk kids singing it at parties along to songs. I’ve been out and heard kids just saying it. Or [saying] other disrespectful things, such as how their parents’ tuition was paying for someone from a less fortunate background who was at the party.

“That’s why a lot of the people of color at CC are afraid to enter the party scene: people get drunk or inebriated on whatever, and the masks come off,” Vang said. He continued to explain one instance where, at a party, the police showed up and a white person started “screaming ‘fuck 12’ to the cops, [and] they were just like ‘are you ok?’ We all know that if folk of color said that, there would have been some issue.”

This type of environment proves just how institutionalized covert racism is at our school. “This is a school of predominately white 1-percenters,” Vang continued. “Elitism, in a sense, is a modern form of racism.” During the Language of Racism discussion, one student remarked how, often times, insulated bubbles of well-meaning, concerned white people—not themselves affected by incidents such as the racist email—form. They express their anger towards the perpetrator and the situation, however, as time goes on, the level and amount of white allyship drops off; non-people of color can walk away from the realities of racism whenever they want.  This abandonment of the fight against racism is a form of racism itself. The passive response by the current administration follows this pattern.   

“These are our reasonable demands,” read the petition written by Kaplan and company signed by over 510 CC students. “Meet them, or stop claiming to be a diverse and welcoming community. As it stands, Colorado College is not doing enough to ensure the welfare of students of color; they are not being treated equally.” This ending of the letter is simple, yet assertive.

Leza cited anti-racism, a very active form of combating all forms of racism, as a key to creating a truly inclusive campus environment. Anti-racism, she explained, includes white people acknowledging the unfair systems put in place that benefit them and elevating the voices of people of color. White allyship can be valuable, so long as it’s sustained. It’s also the acceptance that we as a community cannot sit back and wait for the institution to solve these problems themselves. Change must come from the bottom-up; and in this case, it starts with this petition.

Copies of the petition have been posted around campus with QR codes on the last page, enabling CC students to scan and sign with ease. The link to read and sign the petition is also available in class Facebook groups and the petition will be available to sign in Worner on certain days.

Open a phone camera and a notification will pop up linking to where the letter and petition are able to be read and signed.
Erica Williams

Erica Williams

Erica has been reporting for the Catalyst since her freshman year. She is a history-poly-sci and REMs double major. Interestingly, her grandfather fixed Einstein's furnace.

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