CC students post offensive and racially derogatory comments on the social media platform Yik Yak.
A professor asks a student to speak up in class, addressing an issue as a “representative of the black viewpoint.”
A Latinx student introduces herself in class and she is asked to give her “CC” name, implying that she should use a name that is more anglicized.
These anecdotes illustrate the lived experiences for students on CC’s campus.
Now imagine a classroom in which students identify and evaluate the ways individuals and groups have unequal experiences based on the intersections of race, citizenship, and other dimensions of difference. Envision an institution where there exists a curricular requirement for every student to examine equity and power. That kind of transformational, systematic change exemplifies what CC
is working toward with its institutional antiracist initiative.
“I’m really troubled by false notions of a ‘post-racial’ society as a whole, which many people base solely upon the fact that we had an African American president, and equally as troubled that many see Colorado College as ‘above the fray’ and that we’re not plagued with this societal evil as well,” says Rochelle Dickey-Mason ’83, senior associate dean of students.
The college is most certainly not “above the fray” as is evidenced by numerous racist incidents over the past several years. In March 2018, an unknown person, hiding behind an encrypted email service, sent an extremely hurtful, racist, anti-black, trans-antagonistic message to many students, faculty, and staff. It targeted campus leaders of color, including Dickey-Mason, who have spent years working to make CC a more inclusive, supportive living and learning community. In April 2018, after repeatedly voiced concerns from students through petitions (the first of which was submitted four years prior, highlighting racial, ethnic, and sexual inequalities at CC) and surveys, the faculty voted to eliminate the West in Time curriculum requirement and draft a new general education program in an effort to move toward a more diverse and equitable curriculum. A campus smudging and pipe ceremonies policy went into effect in 2018 after insensitive campus practices made it evident that the college had not been recognizing and supporting indigenous/Native American students. This is far from an exhaustive list.
“When we began our work in 2014, the dominant narrative was that CC was so progressive that racism was not an issue here,” says Paul Buckley, assistant vice president and director of the Butler Center, CC’s hub of diversity, inclusion, intercultural exchange, equity, and empowerment. “That narrative — which reproduces complacency and maintains the status quo — made it clear to me and the Butler Center staff that we would very determinedly set an antiracist agenda for our work.”
Confronting that culture of complacency makes CC’s model to actively pursue antiracism a distinctive approach in higher education. “We have significantly shaped the college’s effort in this area,” Buckley says of his team’s work, “utilizing every situation we have faced to strategically move this work forward.” With racist incidents occurring here and across college campuses and the nation, and violence resulting in tragedy near and far, the college is committed to engaging in dialogue around issues of respect. These conversations are indeed happening at CC, and will continue.
“I hope that with understanding and acknowledgement come open reflection, bold action predicated upon constructive dialogue, and a chance for people to have a greater sense of urgency and agency. We all have power in our own way to fight racism,” Dickey-Mason says.
One of the initiatives laid out in CC’s strategic plan “Building on the Block” is to create a diverse and inclusive campus for all. The college is committed to creating and fostering an environment where all students, faculty, staff, and guests feel welcomed and have the ability to thrive. The establishment of the Butler Center in 2014 was a first and significant step toward interrogating systems, practices, and the campus culture.
Part of that work is to address what had been a painful cycle of inaction that frustrated and disheartened students, faculty, and staff of color who have advocated for significant change — to believe their presence is welcomed and that their contributions to the college are respected. Recent conflicts are the catalyst for exactly that kind of change, beginning with frank and often painful conversations about race. Similar to many campuses nationwide, racist incidents continue to boil up at CC and then seemingly fade away until another incident occurs.
In order to break the cycle, the college is moving beyond investigating incidents as they occur and is taking courageous steps to change the institution itself. In advancing the college’s strategic initiative even further, CC’s commitment to become an antiracist institution sets a goal of eradicating racism embedded in institutional policies, procedures, and practices. Transformational institutional change is the overarching goal of antiracism work at CC.
Challenging conversations are happening. Topics of race, white supremacy, access, and equity are spurring initiatives and action on campuses nationwide. The anonymous email in 2018 made it clear that CC is not immune to the pain and damage of racism and that the campus community has a lot of work to do.
“The sad reality is that structural racism is embedded throughout American history and current society,” says Provost Alan Townsend, who also serves on the Steering Committee for the External Review on Racism. “It’s essential for leaders in higher education to recognize those facts honestly, and work actively against the inequities and biases they create. That’s not just about our moral and ethical obligations — if we are to provide the best possible education for today’s generation of students, issues of equity and power, along with active work toward becoming antiracist institutions, must be a central part of our mission.”
“Changing a culture is a messy process, and above all, it takes time,” says Cameron Mongoven ’21, Colorado College Student Government Association vice president and chair of CCSGA’s Inclusion Committee, and who also serves on the steering committee. “It’s difficult to grapple with the idea that we may never fully see the fruition of our work and that of so many others. I believe that this is a frustration of many students, including myself. Yet, this work must remain alive and active. The biggest reward by far has been hearing the energy in people’s voices when they talk about this. That’s how I know that something is there.”
“We are at so many different places in our journey; for some, this is an awakening. And some of us live, eat, sleep, and breathe this work day in and day out. It can be frustrating and fatiguing on both sides. So, the challenge is really about strategies that help move people forward from where they are now,” says Dickey-Mason. “It’s tremendously rewarding to be at an institution that is brave enough to take on antiracism work and that also provides resources to support people where they are.”
And identifying where they are and what kind of support they need is part of this transformational period for the college.
“It is emotional work,” says Neena Grover, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Faculty Executive Committee chair, and member of the steering committee. “We tend to take racism issues personally and often don’t want to recognize our own racism, regardless of the color of our skin. It is hard to accept that as an institution we might be furthering white privilege and suppressing voices of marginalized communities in many big and small ways.”
“This is critical work that is central to the academic mission of the college,” Dickey-Mason says. “And because it impacts each of us on a daily basis; despite our differing levels of engagement with and understanding of how racism works, it’s insidious and constant in our lives.”
Education and Exploration
An important step to becoming an antiracist campus is acknowledging that racism exists at Colorado College. Racism cannot be addressed if it’s not talked about. CC cannot be an equitable and inclusive community if its members aren’t honest about where the campus culture currently stands, and that making progress is an active and ongoing process of engagement.
“Ultimately, I think most people — students, staff, and faculty — are interested in doing the work toward making CC an antiracist institution,” says Grover. “We are in it together and there is a lot of ownership and a desire to improve Colorado College.”
The Butler Center, in partnership with the Excel@CC professional development program, facilitates educational opportunities for students, faculty, and staff. The “Good to Great” series, presented by Buckley, provides foundational principles and practices, working toward an inclusive understanding of diversity and the campus culture. It also addresses accessibility and accountability in learning and teaching styles as well as recruitment. “Toward a Daily Antiracist Agenda” sessions, facilitated by the Butler Center staff, examine racial bias; facilitate learning about white supremacy’s operation at structural and cultural levels in society and in higher education; develop an understanding of antiracism in action; and engage participants in the development of a personal plan for working toward becoming/being an antiracist.
“CC is committed to working to become an antiracist institution,” says President Jill Tiefenthaler. “The college’s focus on this goal represents a strategic priority, one where success depends on sustained engagement and contributions from each of us.”
Another important step in this effort is an examination of racism at CC. In Fall 2018, the college began an external review on racism, conducted by Roger Worthington of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education. While the report recognizes some of the progress made toward fostering a diverse and inclusive environment, it also provides a more comprehensive examination of effectively addressing racism at CC.
“I hope that first and foremost, the report helps people to understand that racism still exists,” says Dickey-Mason. “I want to see us become a better version of ourselves.”
Townsend echoes the need for acknowledging faults and employing the report to identify solutions to tackle these significant issues. “Put most simply, I hope our work on this initiative helps make it a place where anyone can come from any background, feel a true part of the community, and have an equal opportunity to thrive once they are here,” he says.
The report includes nine recommendations: Develop a collaborative implementation plan for the antiracism initiative; build coalitions to develop, advance, and promote the antiracism initiative; connect the CC core values to a pledge of antiracism at CC; appoint a vice president for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion; establish an antiracist curriculum transformation initiative; expand diversity in enrollment management and student life; increase faculty diversity and leadership; increase staff diversity and leadership; and develop and implement a strategic communications plan for the antiracism initiative.
Along with these broad recommendations, the external review also provides guidance on action steps and metrics for measuring progress.
Already underway, the faculty completed the general education review and revision and in May 2019 adopted a new general education program and curricular requirements. The Curriculum Executive Committee — with representation from faculty, students, and staff — drafted a new general education program and facilitated broad community discussion about its priorities. “Examination of power, diversity, and inequality emerged as a central imperative,” says Tip Ragan, professor of history and chair of the Curriculum Executive Committee (2018-19).
The college’s newly adopted course offerings aim to be broad enough to allow departments to tailor to specific disciplinary needs, yet also specific enough to address essential elements of a holistic approach to an inclusive curriculum. The recommendation also includes a directive for building faculty capacity for antiracist curriculum transformation involving course content selection; teaching a diverse student body; student demographics/classroom climate; and instructor self-awareness.
The report notes that while “principles of diversity and inclusion are fundamental prerequisite conditions for antiracism, they are not sufficient conditions in and of themselves for antiracism efforts to proceed.” The external review provides wide-ranging guidance on how the CC community can take significant action to change the college culture. The report explains that diversity and inclusion efforts in institutions of higher education must incorporate systematic antiracism efforts, so as not to marginalize people of color and those from other oppressed groups.
“The external review is about getting started on doing the work at the institutional level and bringing us all to the table at this moment. It is collective work,” says Grover. “When students tell us that education and opportunities offered by CC are not equally available to them or people at CC experience racism in their everyday lives, we need to do something about it.”
“CC’s antiracist initiative erases the passivity of how diversity and inclusion work can sometimes be seen,” Mongoven explains. “By rejecting the complacency of being ‘non-racist,’ this work is founded on the premise that there is work to still be done no matter who you are. This new standard looks to what can be done rather than what you are not, or what you have already done. By far the most important element of the antiracist initiative is its shift in mindset.”
The college is taking action now to make longstanding improvements in the quest to become an antiracist institution. Every office and department on campus has been asked to think about how CC’s antiracism initiative will affect their work. Each vice president, the members of Staff Council, the Faculty Executive Committee, the CC Student Government Association, and the President’s Council have identified ways their groups can advance the external review report recommendations.
The new general education requirements focus on how learning and knowledge are evoked and created, across the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and arts. This new curriculum also explicitly incorporates and encourages the development of courses and learning opportunities that challenge racism and racist legacies in the U.S., globally, and in the structure and character of academic disciplines.
For example, a two-block Equity and Power requirement represents a key change in CC’s general education approach. One course must focus on the U.S.; the other course on global issues. In both cases, the focus on equity and power will open up space for addressing racism and antiracism.
The requirements go into effect with the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
Increasing socioeconomic diversity is another institutional priority identified in the review. By making CC more affordable, the college will attract and enroll a higher percentage of students from lower- and middle-income families, and increase representation from all socioeconomic categories. “Building on Originality: The Campaign for Colorado College” aims to raise $100 million for financial aid including $20 million specifically to support the Colorado Pledge. Once this initiative is fully funded, Colorado students from low- and middle-income families will be assured that a CC education will be as or more affordable than attending the state’s public flagship university.
“We want the learning environment to be inclusive and diverse for all students’ growth,” Grover says. “We want diversity and inclusion to be a norm, not just words that we use for conforming to the practices of functioning in a predominantly white community. All the evidence suggests that diversity of ideas and practices produces more complex solutions to the problems; we have some big problems to solve ahead of us, from social justice to gene editing to climate change.”
CC’s antiracism initiative seeks to place the institution on the leading edge of racial justice in U.S. higher education. Over the summer, a small group used the report and recommendations, along with an external review of the Butler Center and other information gathered throughout the year, to draft an implementation plan with a timeline and metrics for tracking progress toward becoming an antiracist institution. At the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year, President Tiefenthaler will share the draft plan with the campus community, asking for feedback. After gathering input, campus leaders will finalize the college’s strategy and begin implementation. Expect to receive progress updates once the plan is put into action as all members of the CC community work toward meaningful and sustained change.
“I want to see Colorado College become a learning institution where its students are no longer limited by the contingencies that society has placed on their identities,” says Mongoven. “While outside of CC these struggles will persist, I hope that this school can provide four years of unhindered self-development, mobility, and relationship building. I believe we are on that path and are welcoming conversations on it rather than shying away from a challenge like this.”
Antiracist vs. Nonracist
Antiracist: The policy or practice of actively opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance; understanding the institutional nature of racism and acknowledgement that racism affects all individuals.
“This stand implies taking responsibility for your unwilling participation in these practices and beginning a new life committed to the goal of achieving real racial equality.” (Bonilla-Silva, 2003)
Nonracist: A passive rejection or opposition of racist behavior; neither supporting nor opposing racism.
“Nonracism accepts colorblindness and racial neutrality, which centers on non-discriminatory intentions and assumes the possibility of racial innocence of people, policies, and ideas. It grants permission for racist actions to occur unchallenged as they are not viewed or acknowledged as being racist.” – LaGarrett King
Progress on campus
- The new general education curriculum makes room for and encourages the development of courses and learning opportunities that challenge racism and racist legacies in the U.S., globally, and in the structure and character of academic disciplines. It eliminates the West in Time requirement and adds a two-block Equity and Power requirement focusing on equity and power questions.
- In partnership with the Excel@CC professional development program, Paul Buckley, assistant vice president and director of the Butler Center, has facilitated “Good to Great” workshops and Butler Center staff have facilitated “Toward a Daily Antiracist Agenda” sessions for nearly 700 faculty and staff members.
- During the 2018-19 academic year, the Butler Center staff provided a “Toward a Daily Antiracist Agenda” session for members of CC student government and a student session as part of the Collaborative for Community Engagement’s“Week of Action.”
- The Butler Center completed its fifth-year external review in continuation of its strategic antiracism initiative in diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
- To increase CC’s socioeconomic diversity, “Building on Originality: The Campaign for Colorado College” has set a goal of raising $100 million for financial aid, including $20 million for the Colorado Pledge, supporting Colorado students from low- and middle-income families by making a CC education as or more affordable than attending the state’s public flagship university.
- The college has awarded faculty grants to develop new courses or redesign existing courses to diversify CC’s academic curriculum, with a specific focus on including and addressing issues of equity, power, inequality, and diverse experiences.
- The Crown Center for Faculty Development focused its annual early summer faculty retreat on inclusive and equitable learning within the Block Plan.
- The Student Life and Academic Divisions offer Block Break-Away trips that provide block break options for students who may not have the means or desire to engage in “typical” block break activities.
- Offices of Outdoor Education and Campus Activities are re-envisioning programming to make them more inclusive and representative of the interests of the student body. For example, the Blues and Shoes music event is now LoCCal Fest, an opportunity to “enjoy all things local,” from music to food to art.
- The Career Center’s executives-in-residence have representation from marginalized populations.
- A new student advising hub will launch in Fall 2019 to enhance the college’s ability to provide academic and other forms of support to every student.