This past fourth week, Colorado College faculty voted to alter the college curriculum by removing the West in Time all-college requirement. The vote was a staggering 81–12. Furthermore, the meeting was unique, as it gave black students the floor to discuss the petition they created. Written by the black community of CC and then signed by over 500 members of the student body, the petition called for several changes to the campus environment as well as the college curriculum, following the racist email sent to a large portion of the CC community.
“While the email was the catalyst for this movement, the movement is about so much more than that,” said sophomore Shane Brown. “While I didn’t attend the meeting myself, I helped write the petition with Cam [Kaplan] after I noticed racial tension on campus getting worse following the email. I mean, I heard black students saying things like, white friends are cancelled and whatnot. Personally, I grew up in the rural south, and I’ve seen it before: division makes it harder to create positive change; I wanted to see unity instead of division.”
In an audio recording of the meeting produced by an unknown source, Black Student Union member Cam Kaplan can be heard in the background making her way through the student section of the audience, telling her peers to get ready to go to the front, despite only four making speeches. “[Dean and head of REMS Sandra Wong] emailed me ahead of time asking how many of us there would be […] so they could set up extra seats for us, but, like, we never had a definite number,” Kalplan explained. “They put out like 20, but there ended up being 38 of us.”
The speeches made by the four students were nothing short of passionate. The introduction speaker expressed that while “thoughts and prayers” are frequently given to those targeted by events similar to the email, “good intent and good will are not enough; we need action. We must all commit to do the work to make CC a better institution and community for every single member.”
Wong then spoke briefly, highlighting how many students had come forward and “expressed their need to talk to all of [the faculty] directly about things that have been brought up several times over the past few weeks, even years.” Following this, student Derrika Thomas read a poem she penned, titled “Tips for Assimilating at 6035 Feet for the Black Prospie in Your Life.” D Adams ‘19 candidly discussed the “outright insulting” nature of “[the faculty’s] negligence” proven by the meager 10-minute time frame given to black students to speak at the meeting. “Spare me your solidarity if you do nothing to combat racism in your classrooms and hold other professors accountable for what they do in their classrooms,” Adams remarked. “I’m honestly embarrassed … we’ve been talking about this since the ‘70s.” Shane Brown gave the speech conclusion by discussing the petition they created, which “detailed the easy ways in which the college as a whole can become less racist.”
Members of faculty were also called out by name for words and acts of racism in their classrooms. When this happened, “only one professor spoke up, apologized for their department, and promised to try to improve in the future,” said Heidi Lewis, professor of feminist and gender studies. “Other than that, the silence was deafening. I had to leave; I didn’t even vote [on the West in Time requirement]. The justification that many of the faculty who voted against its abolition gave was that students today are only interested in the present. Well let me tell you, I’m a 20th and 21st century scholar, I hold a PhD in American Studies, and, basically, I study current and popular culture. But still, I recognize the importance of the past, and I integrate it into my curriculum. Others can and should do the same.”
The fact that students were invited to speak wasn’t the only thing that set this particular faculty meeting apart from others. “Normally, during department meetings, there’s a dynamic discussion,” said Emily Chan, Associate Dean of Academic Programs and Strategic Initiatives. “People discuss and throw out ideas on the table, and people say ‘Oh, I agree with that,’ or ‘Oh, no, I don’t agree.’ You don’t get that during all-faculty meetings. [President Jill Tiefenthaler] usually speaks for about five minutes to start, mentions who’s receiving tenure, who’s up for review, things like that. The audience doesn’t really interact with whoever’s speaking.”
Yet in the audio recording, applause and snaps of approval can be heard prior, during, and following the student speeches. “[Wong] always speaks next, except this time, she didn’t,” said Wong. “Besides getting everyone to be quiet and introducing the topic of discussion, she gave her speaking time to black students of CC. She is the one who made it possible for the students to give these speeches and she gave up her time for them.”
Race, ethnicity, and migration studies professor Michael Sawyer spoke to the responsibility faculty of color feel towards students of color on campus. “I think it’s irresponsible not to feel like that, personally,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t have a black, male professor until I was getting a PhD, literally in my entire academic career. What that means is that I had a marginalized experience; I didn’t get to see myself replicated in particular spaces and places, and it also meant that there were people there who were particularly hostile to me. And what it further meant is that if I was having a problem, I didn’t know who to go to talk to.”
So, what are the larger implications of this meeting for students of color at Colorado College and the future of our institution? In the end, the meeting only met one of the several requests in the petition. “REMS, fem gen, etcetera shouldn’t be the only places whereby people deal with the complexity of life, meaning that there are other people besides white males from the fifth century BC who decide how we’re going to operate,” said Sawyer when asked about the West in Time requirement.
In Kaplan’s opinion, the guidelines for what qualifies as a Social Inequality or Global Cultures credit “are kind of ridiculous.” “I mean, people can go take, like, African Dance, and in the College’s eyes, they’ve learned enough about ‘social inequality,’” she said. Dean Chan, however, doesn’t necessarily think that inviting students to speak at more faculty meetings is the answer.
“If students spoke at every faculty meeting, it would lose its impact,” said Chan. “However, I think it was a really good sign that students can take action and fight systemic oppression. That’s not to say everything’s perfect now: far from it, actually. This is going to take far, far longer than any of our lifetimes. That’s why we cannot waste a single second or a single opportunity to take action.” Brown agreed: “I think I was both surprised and not surprised by the community’s response to the petition,” he said. “Surprised by how fast we were able to get the signatures, but not surprised that we got so many. I think the main thing people need to do is not just forget about all of this when they go home for the summer; there needs to be a sustained level of allyship. This petition and this faculty meeting are only the start; [us black students] are only going to get louder.”
Two days following the meeting, President Teifenthaler released a message via email to the CC community. It expressed what a “critical time” it is “to listen to and understand the lived experiences of marginalized members of our community,” that everyone must “recognize [their] own role in creating and perpetuating inequity,” and stated her plan to initiate “an examination of racism at CC” through an ambiguous external review process that includes “interviews with students, staff, and faculty as well as a review of institutional mechanisms and structures” to become “the diverse and equitable community we should be.” The review and change in curriculum requirements are only the first step in an ongoing battle to combat racism and foster a more inclusive campus environment.