On Jan. 21, in a packed Celeste Theatre, President Jill Tiefenthaler introduced the presentation of initial findings of Colorado College’s Anti-Racism External Review. President Tiefenthaler began by saying, “External reviews often make us feel vulnerable and apprehensive.” Despite feelings of apprehension and the vulnerability, a steering committee composed of faculty, students, staff, and alumni, has worked with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education at the University of Maryland to audit CC’s policies, practices, structures, and communications regarding racism. As part of that process, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, headed by Dr. Roger L. Worthington, has created a report comprised of its initial findings.
Colorado College began this process in reaction to a series of racist events that occurred in the last two years, though racist acts have been reported, and often overlooked, for “more than a decade.” One of the key events that triggered this step is the New York Times ranking CC second among institutions that draw more from the one top one percent than the bottom 40 percent of income classes. Another trigger was the anonymous mass email, sent on March 20, 2018, containing “racist, sexist, and trans-antagonistic content” — as described by the report — attacking two CC deans and containing additional racist, anti-Black content. Those incidents, among others, were the fuel for the college to initiate this process. The presentation may, however, have raised more questions than answers.
Dr. Roger Worthington, the presenter of the initial findings of the report, is the Maryland Diversity and Inclusion Center’s executive director, and is a nationally recognized scholar on the topic of diversity in higher education. A practiced speaker, he started his presentation saying, “CC is not that different from other institutions: founded to create all white, male leaders of the future, which touches on the normality of racism in higher education, and generally in the US.” He singled out CC’s recent anti-racism efforts, saying, “What we are trying to do is unprecedented.”
Dr. Worthington also asked the audience, “Can CC be an elite institution without being an elitist?” This question, as Worthington himself noted, requires unflinching self-evaluation of intersectional issues like classism, racism, and sexism.
Dr. Worthington was in residence, living on campus, during Block 3. During this time, he attended classes and meetings, organized focus groups, and immersed himself in campus culture. Worthington faced the challenge of understanding CC on social, academic, and many more levels largely in the span of one Block. It’s unclear whether one person can understand the racial undertones in relationships and communications, the micro-aggressions that happen every day, enough to write this initial report. Does it really provide a “deep dive,” as it claims to?
This report is about 45 pages long and assesses the curriculum, co-curriculum, classroom climate, faculty diversity and development, organization structures and communications, and provides recommendations in each of these areas. As Dr. Worthington highlighted in the report, complaints are often swept “under the rug.” For example, we still do not know why the college is not need-blind. A student asked this question during the question and answer part of the presentation. Worthington’s answer was an affirmation of his confidence in President Tiefenthaler’s ability to address the problem.
In tackling anti-Blackness on campus, the report recommended reconciliation practices, anti-racist policies, and overarching recommendations. The report also recommended partnerships with Colorado Springs Black affinity/civil rights organizations and chartering a Black Lives Matter chapter on campus. The report incentivizes formalized mentorship, which would entail partnering with other colleges to collaborate on learning opportunities provided by black teachers.
Regarding the elimination of the West-in-Time, the report recommended expanding the breadth and depth of the Power and Equity requirement, which touches on “power, privileges, inequities, oppression, marginalization, and critical theory.” The report also suggested an “anti-racist initiative” where the curriculum across departments gets evaluated on a specific time-frame. This “anti-racist initiative” included the addition of anti-racist speakers in the First Mondays Events Series.
The report addresses micro-aggressive actions and comments, spotlighting, and the use of racial epithets. Alumni provided multiple recommendations which, they said, should be understood by every faculty member. They recommended an article titled, “Eight Actions to Reduce Racism in College Classrooms” as a good resource for recommendations. The report also encouraged faculty members to be self-aware, write an inclusive statement in the syllabus, undergo additional training, and provide extra credit for students who use “diverse” literature. The report also proposed the elevation of a chief diversity officer position to a vice presidential position in order to promote credibility and visibility of cultural diversity, building new institutional diversity infrastructure.
In the realm of communications, mentioning the administration’s response to the hateful email previously mentioned and the tokenization of people of color, the report suggested the hiring of a crisis manager within the communications department. This role would include conducting anti-racist campaigns and forming a communication action team to strategize how best to support each constituent group.
To improve accountability within administrative and faculty governance, the report recommends a specialized consultation for the entire college on governance and accountability. Within student dynamics, the report suggested that CC be marketed to different high schools, introduce the anti-racism initiative to guests and new students, and make it a central feature of CC outdoor recreation.
The recommendations are numerous; some of them are general, and others are more specific. Dr. Worthington assured the audience that this process is an on-going one that should take a year. Many of Worthington’s recommendations have been suggested before by students and professors. Despite the recent increase in administrative support for anti-racist initiatives, the implementation of many of Worthington’s recommendations remains unclear. As Dr. Worthington puts it, “institutional transformative change is not easy.” Accordingly, there is no procedure for implementing changes posted for the rest of this year on CC’s website. There was also no definite answer in the presentation for how exactly those suggestions and recommendations should be enacted. Dr. Worthington mentioned that, “It is up to all of us to continue [to] implement these recommendations.” Students are wondering what exactly that will entail, and whether CC truly is on the way to becoming anti-Racist.