Last week, the Colorado College faculty voted to eliminate the West In Time from CC’s critical perspectives requirements following student outcry. Then, President Jill Tiefenthaler commissioned an external review of racism on Colorado College’s campus. In an email reporting the decision, she wrote: “Now is a critical time to listen to and understand the lived experiences of marginalized members of our community. While it is difficult for each of us to recognize our own role in creating and perpetuating inequity, we must do it.”
Tiefenthaler’s words beg the question: Why now? Why now, instead of any other time over the course of the school’s evolution, when racism is by no means a new presence on CC’s campus? It doesn’t inspire confidence in this institution that its most tangible response to racism on campus came only after such a disgustingly explicit act of hate. It suggests the response was, in part, an attempt to save face; to make up for CC’s initial, hurried reaction to an email, which was far more serious than “spam.” But that, in turn, reminds us that student movements are still effective.
Yes, the CC administration spent far too long doing far too little about racism on campus. Yes, Colorado College as a whole has failed to listen to students and faculty of color; the student body has not done enough to address racial bias entrenched in campus life. It would be a shame, though, to forget that the most coordinated, broad, student-led effort to tackle racism at CC—in at least the two years I’ve been here—yielded concrete, institutional-level change within a block of student demands being formally made. It would do injustice to the students who pushed for that change. It would be wrong to diminish the impact of the Black Student Union’s petition in pushing Tiefenthaler and the CC administration to take action they otherwise may not have.
Should CC have implemented these changes sooner? Of course, but we already knew that. It would be wonderful to expect those who lead us to take preemptive action in matters of social justice, but as a rule it is unrealistic—people in positions of power have the most to lose from change. President Tiefenthaler’s email, then, should serve to catalyze; if it doesn’t, we’re either misunderstanding direct action or we aren’t as committed to equity as we claim.
The College’s handling of the racist email hasn’t been perfect, nor are the changes made at the end of last block enough to truly address the wide scope of policies, implicit and explicit, that continue to put undue stress on students of color at CC: “Why now?” is a valid and important question. I just don’t think it’s the most useful. Rather, these recent changes ask students at CC—any student who claims to care that this school be open and inclusive—“Why not now?”