CC’s Relationship with the Military: Discussions on Race

Part Three of a Three-Part Series

On Thursday, April 20, four scholars with either current or past connections to the United States military gathered at Colorado College to discuss race in the context of civil-military relations. The event, titled Beyond Black and Blue: The Future of Civil Military Relations, featured Colonel Ty Seidule from the U.S. Military Academy, Captain and Instructor Keidrick Roy and Professor Gregory Laski from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Professor Michael Sawyer from CC.

Captain Keidrick Roy. Photo courtesy of keidrickroy.com

The event, primarily organized by Roy, is part of a wider initiative through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. CC, the Air Force Academy, and the Military Academy at West Point are among many ‘Mellon Institutions’ that the Mellon Foundation encourages cross-campus interaction between.

Roy began the event with a sober reflection of current race relations. “In the wake of recent violence that has erupted between uniformed police authorities and citizens of color in the United States, formally recessed racial tensions have resurfaced into significant obstacles for collective progress,” said Roy. “We meet here to explore and discuss the innovative ways professors and students grapple with race at colleges that produce civilian leaders and military officers… as they develop their own definition of duty.”

The choice of title, Roy assured the audience, did not assume that a beyond exists, either currently or in the future. The “beyond” is “not a place that completely disavows the reality of race or the necessity of the military but one in which we can imagine difference without domination,” said Roy.

Within the “binary of black and blue, there is ample ideological groundwork” to establish ‘blue’ as a representation of the military, said Sawyer continuing Roy’s talk regarding the event title. “The matter of black relating itself in my reading of civil society is more tenuous.” It centers on “whether the black body, ideologically represented as the radical other in this formulation, can find itself productively part of the normative structures of civil order.”

The thinking and theory of W.E.B. DuBois dominated Sawyer’s talk, especially DuBois’ “The Talented Tenth.” Sawyer focused on the trifecta of twoness, double consciousness, and second sight. He quoted DuBois: “the Negro is…born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

Sawyer also touched upon social contract theory within the conversation on civil society. Analyzing Rousseau in particular, Sawyer said that there is a dynamic of “inclusion by dis-inclusion with respect to social contract theory.”

While Sawyer addressed the theoretical underpinnings of the title and topic, Colonel Seidule concentrated on application. Seidule, a professor and Head of the Department of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, has spent over 30 years in military. However, Seidule told of an upbringing dominated by what he called “the lost-cause myth of the Confederacy.” This myth “holds that the Civil War was fought for state’s rights, not slavery,” said Seidule. “The lost-cause myth was and is the…rational for white supremacy maintained by violent terror. The lost-cause myth was a lie, a very effective lie.”

It was a lie that transcended his early life. “I was born under a lie,” said Seidule. “I grew up with the lie.” He detailed a childhood where “[he thought Robert E. Lee was an 11. Jesus came in at about five.” In a youth split between Virginia and Georgia, Seidule attended schools and traveled streets named after Lee. He even received in undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University.

During his time in college, Seidule finally took a class that attributed the cause of the Civil War to slavery and he pursued this issue into graduate school. Still, the myth followed him, in a way.

When Seidule arrived at West Point 13 years ago, he lived on Lee Road, walked past Lee barracks, and saw statues of Lee. “Why is Lee so prominent at West Point?” Seidule asked himself. “Lee committed treason…he had renounced his oath to the nation, fought to create a slave republic, fought to destroy the U.S. …and killed more U.S. Army soldiers than Rommel.”

Seidule found that immediately following the Civil War, Lee and other Confederates were treated as traitors. “West Point banned Confederate graduates from its memory for 40 years,” said Seidule. “No Confederates in the cemetery, none in our memorial hall, Confederates were traitors.”

The transformation occurred about 90 years later. “Most of the memorials at West Point came during the Civil Rights Era, from 1950 to 1970,” said Seidule. “Confederate memorialization at West Point was a reaction to integration.” It is this reactionary memorialization that especially angers Seidule.

The final speaker of the night was Air Force Academy Professor Gregory Laski. He focused on conceptions of America as it relates to an Air Force cadet’s conceptions of their service. “In preparing officers, we are also presuming and presenting a vision of the nation and its citizens,” Laski said. “Who do our students imagine they are preparing to serve, and why?”

Laski primarily addressed the danger of the assumption that white America stands for America. “We owe it to our students to trouble the conflation between America and white,” said Laski. “Doing so requires us first of all to heed whiteness itself as a racial designation. Race comes up immediately when we talk about blackness but it rarely comes up when we talk about whiteness, and we are almost always in some way talking about whiteness but not marking it as such so it has the privilege of neutral.”

The question and answer session following the talks included questions on memorialization as well as the best approaches to conversations on race.

Seidule noted the complicated nature of memorialization. Even as he and others work to rename Lee Barracks at West Point, the Army has “ten posts in the American South named after Confederates,” he said. “Fort Gordon was named after a guy who never served in the U.S. Army, who after the Civil War started the KKK in Georgia and became the Grand Dragon the of KKK. Benning [of Fort Benning] never served in the U.S. Army, and was the guy who said we [the Confederates] are fighting this war for the continuation of African slavery.”

An Air Force Academy faculty member in attendance noted that the Air Force Academy is in the process of changing its approach to conversations on race and gender. In the past, Air Force Academy juniors were enrolled in a class focused on white supremacy and micro-aggressions which resulted in substantial pushback. Moving forward, the Air Force Academy hopes to engage first-years in a discussion on identity so that in later years there is less protest and pushback. These practices, from the Beyond Black and Blue event itself to the new class structure, focus on conversation as a tool for progress.

these issues in the local community.”

A CC trustee matched CC’s $20,000 commitment, increasing the total to $40,000. The seed money was split among four student groups: Grits, Mobile Meals, Family Day Center, and Ponderosa Project.

At the time, the Soup Project Challenge heralded a new era of CC’s involvement in homelessness and hunger issues. But in the intervening two years, one project has folded, another one is in hiatus, and the remaining two are unsure of their financial futures and viability. In addition, these two years featured high transition in both the offices of the CCE and the Innovation Institute and the withdrawal by the trustee of the initial matching pledge of $20,000.

This calls into question the efficacy of the Soup Project Challenge as well as the administration, and the student body’s involvement in homelessness and hunger issues in Colorado Springs.

The Student Groups

The Family Day Center “never really got off the ground,” said Dr. Jordan Radke, current Director of the CCE.

Mobile Meals had initial success, though when their founders all graduated in 2016, it left a hole that the organization has been unable to fully fill. “What we found is that if you take the original, highly empowered student’s vision and hand it over to somebody else that not every student can step into something that amorphous,” said Radke. However, there are hopes that moving forward, Mobile Meals will be revived successfully.

Grits and Ponderosa Project are both still functioning, though with challenges to their future financial and functional viability.

Grits works to gather stories from people experiencing homelessness and spread the stories to the community. Currently, the latter occurs through placements in the Colorado Springs Independent, which runs $500 a page according to former Grits leader Reed Young, who graduated this past winter. “We did have a good amount of seed money funding from the project but the model that Grits created in publishing stories and articles in the Independent is fairly expensive,” said Max Rawson, a current Grits leader. “That money has been running out. Those publications reach 35,000 people, but it’s just not a fiscally sustainable model.”

For Ponderosa Project, the issues began immediately. Their original proposal involved selling food (the original name was Ponderosa Pastries). “We had to go through a lot of hoops trying to get it legally okayed with the administration here to sell to Bon Appétit to our student body, to be a student organization while also selling a product,” said Lee, a founder of the Ponderosa Project (PP). “So although at the beginning that was our model, that’s what the Innovation Institute really pushed for us to do, to have this sustainable model to keep us going on our own, the reality was that the structure here in an academic setting is just not conducive for a nonprofit.”

Both these groups raise questions about the Soup Project Challenge. For Grits, the evaluating committee appeared to look past the unsustainable nature of consistently publishing stories without a source of revenue. For PP, the endorsement of such a proposal suggests that the committee did not analyze the legal viability of such an endeavor.

Seed Money Controversy

The withdrawal by the trustee of the matching $20,000 caused major hiccups, but the withdrawal was exacerbated by the fact that the groups were not told of the lack of funds until over a year after the withdrawal. “They pledged $40,000 and the donor never came through,” said Young. “Grits found out about that a year and a half after the fact.”

Claire Vernon, a co-founder of the PP with Lee, said “[The CCE] totally kept us in the dark about it, so we thought that we had way more money than we did for a long time and were spending it like that.” Lee added, “We had no idea this was an issue until they were about out of money. They said that they had been using part of the PP money for other groups because they had kept it all in the same pool. Right off the bat, we had requested to have our money put into a separate account so we could track the spending.” Radke explained that “The issue was that these funds were donations to the college to support the college’s engagement on these issues and so couldn’t be transferred to individual businesses outside of the college.”

To further aggravate the problem, at least from Grits’ perspective, was the non-transparency of the allocation of the remaining $20,000. “When they realized the alumni giving was out of the option, the CCE told us that we didn’t have any funding left,” said Young. “That was early 4th block. They didn’t tell us that the rest was going to the PP. We didn’t find out that the rest of the $20,000 was going to the PP until we emailed the PP.”

Grits sent a letter to Dr. Radke and Ms. Shanna of the CCE protesting the funding situation and the lack of professionalism in the CCE’s decision not to inform Grits that the PP was receiving the remaining funds. Grits wrote that the college “has used our program to promote its image in our local community, including multiple website posts, an article that appeared in ‘Around the Block,’ and President Tiefenthaler’s brief mention of our work in her 2016 commencement address.”

The issue was resolved with the use of funds from the dean’s office. “When I stepped in [to the Director position], I quickly became aware of this funding gap,” Radke said. “Even now it is bizarre to me that it had not been addressed beforehand. I kept getting circular answers from people and came to the conclusion that the best response would be to advocate for an alternative funding source to fulfill the college’s commitment to these groups.” Radke went to Dean Sandi Wong and Associate Dean Mike Siddoway—who had played an active role in the Community Kitchen—and they were able to provide funds to replace the withdrawal by the trustee.

However, frustration persisted because of the lack of accountability. “We didn’t know the donor’s name because of the politics of alumni giving,” said Young. “The Office of Advancement would not say because the person probably gives other places.” In addition, the disclosure of the name of a college trustee who had withdrew funds from such a project might result in negative or unwanted publicity.

Transition at the CCE and Innovation Institute

The transitory past few years at both the Innovation Institute and the CCE may have contributed to issues. The head of the Innovation Institute at the time of the challenge, Patrick Bultema, is no longer Director of Innovation. In addition, Dave Harker left as Director of the CCE in November 2016 and Shanna Farmer left the CCE in December 2016.

“The CCE has been really supportive, but similar to Grits, they have been undergoing a lot of transitions in leadership,” said Rawson. “Our relationship has been a little disjointed. It is hard for staff to get to know student leaders personally when it is switching around on a semester basis.” Vernon added that “The turnover rate at the CCE was a big issue because there is not going to be continuity with interns, those are always changing, so you have to have a structure in the institution of the school to support that.”

In addition, the lack of local knowledge added to the difficult process of adding new employees. “The school kept hiring people for the CCE who weren’t from Colorado Springs and knew nothing about what was going on or even about the project,” said Vernon.

Moving Forward in the Shadow of the Community Kitchen

“Going out into the community after the ending of the soup kitchen and talking to people living at these shelters…they really did say that we are pretty upset that the Soup Kitchen at CC closed and that we really did look for that Sunday,” said Lee. “So that was really challenging too—to create a project that would reinvent something that was already working for the community, that was already doing something for the community.”

As the groups chosen from the Soup Project Challenge either fall away or expand, the shadow the Community Kitchen will also likely fall away as the students who were on-campus during the operation graduate.

Clearly the Community Kitchen had the advantage of being highly visual and known on campus. “I think it was just known across campus that on Sundays the Soup Kitchen holds their weekly session, whereas a lot of the events through Grits, MM, PP, and FDC occur off-campus and are not advertised a ton,” said Rawson. “I also don’t think that is important per se. I think the primary goal of the Soup Challenge was to foster a community of groups that engage with the community…these groups branch out a little bit more to events, arts projects, food insecurity.”

Radke reflected on what she saw as issues with conceptualizations of the Soup Project Challenge as a whole: “My impression of this whole process was that there was a pretty big gap between what the students were asked to propose and what the college actually was interested in. From everybody that I have talked to, it sounds like students were asked to propose self-funded businesses that would basically exist outside of the college. And then my understanding is that what the college actually wanted, and what the CCE was asked to advise, were long-term campus-community partnerships.”

“To me the underlying issue is that it was potentially conceptualized wrong,” Radke continued. “I think the best way to impact hunger and homelessness in our community is to plug into and transform existing initiatives and I think that one of the biggest flaws of this program was in expecting students to come up with brand new ideas.”

Despite these concerns with the implementation, Radke said, “There is, from our perspective at least, strong institutional commitment to continue to engage in issues of hunger and homelessness and to find the good ideas within these initial projects.”

Young balances his deliberations on the Soup Project Challenge. On one hand, “CC is an institution of the status quo,” he said. “CC has so much money, and it was so frustrating for me, like I just wanted to go down and do interviews [at the Marion House]. I was spending more time in meetings than volunteering or publishing stories.”

But Young said that improvement was necessary for student groups and the school alike: “We could have done better and the CCE could have done better.”

Radke hopes to see that improvement and buck the trend of transition in the CCE. “I am new to this director position and so want to be hopeful and forward-looking,” said Radke. “We face so many challenges and have such a rocky history and we really want to fix it and be here for a long time and build something fantastic.”

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