A Conversation with Professor Michael Sawyer: CC and Police Reform

As activists are calling nationally for police reform, so too have members of the Colorado College community called for a thorough reexamination of the college’s relationship with policing. In June, Acting Co-President Mike Edmonds asked Assistant Professor Michael Sawyer (Race, Ethnicity & Migration Studies; English) to lead a community-informed process that will reform and reimagine CC’s relationship to the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD). Many students, including CC’s student-led Collective for Anti-Racism and Liberation, have also contacted the college administration with concerns about the college’s relationship to the police. Sawyer emphasizes that student leadership and engagement are central to this review process.

This Campus Safety Initiative comes in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and amidst ongoing violence against countless other Black Americans. Yet while the national conversation about police violence has recently gained momentum, Black activists have been organizing, protesting, and fighting against police violence and racism for centuries. For Sawyer, their legacies and wisdom are the backbone of the anti-racism work and police reform that we are engaging in today.

“We don’t want to recreate the mistakes of the past,” Sawyer says. “We have a long and storied history through which we can examine and understand contemporary issues, and yet we’re having the same conversations that the Black Panther party was having in 1968 [following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]. To ignore our history is to risk going in circles just to get back to where we were in 1968. We can actually cut to the chase and move forward since we already have the answers to many of these questions.”

Sawyer is beginning this Campus Safety Initiative with open community dialogue and opportunities for feedback and write-ins. Several virtual town halls are in the works for the fall semester, during which students and student-led organizations, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the wider Colorado Springs community will be encouraged to share their concerns and experiences of policing. He is also collaborating with Colorado College Campus Safety (led by Director Maggie Santos ’86) and is scheduled to meet with local law enforcement to have candid conversations through which they can discuss and identify avenues for reform. Sawyer will also take part in a local panel later this month, which will air on FOX21 News Colorado.

Sawyer explains that while many of these conversations are difficult and complicated, they are critical. “If a cop is driving around and sees someone with a Black Lives Matter bumper sticker and becomes angry about that, we need to interrogate where their reaction comes from,” he says.

Sawyer also hopes that dialogue and action will extend beyond Colorado Springs. “With today’s technology, we have the opportunity to connect with grassroots organizers across the country, even across the globe,” he says. “This conversation about campus policing is bigger than Colorado College, and we need to be talking to students and community leaders at other institutions. At other colleges and universities, students’ experiences with campus safety and police are vastly different from CC, and we have much to learn from one another.”

Sawyer emphasizes that in order for lasting change to occur, this process must be both multilayered and sustained. “This is not a one-off project that we can complete within a few months. Rather, we’re setting up the groundwork to be having these conversations over time, while also creating a working document that we can present as a vision for the short, medium, and long-term. Furthermore, much of what we’re doing will benefit students 10, 20, 50 years from now. We’re not in the position to enjoy all of the changes that are happening; instead, we have to think about those who will come after us, as we strive to leave CC and the world better than it was when we found it.”

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