By Anusha Khanal and Sam Seymour
On March 21, 2018, several members of the community were the targets of a hateful and racist email. The email initiated a series of necessary conversations, dialogues, and policy changes on campus, but most importantly posed an existential question to the college. The email served as a reminder that racism is systemic, thriving within the everyday framework of our campus, and it requires a communal effort to make progress.
As a response, the Black Student Union sent out an open letter demanding institutional changes. Some of the recommendations provided included eliminating the West in Time requirement, hiring more staff and faculty of color, expanding the training for NSO and Priddy Trips, and teaching faculty and staff how to responsibly facilitate class discussions, among others. The letter pointed out the college’s lack of a serious effort to ensure the welfare of students of color. As a result of this student resistance, the West in Time requirement was revoked alongside the introduction of other programs on campus.
At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, President Tiefenthaler shared an update stating that the school sought to build a more diverse community for both the upcoming school year and the future. In the message, the President emphasized the importance of facing these problems head on.
“An important step to becoming an anti-racist campus is acknowledging that racism exists right here,” President Tiefenthaler remarked. “We can’t address racism if we don’t talk about it. We can’t be an equitable and inclusive community if we aren’t honest that we are not there yet, and that making progress is an active and ongoing process of engagement.”
Most importantly, President Tiefenthaler announced an external review of racism at CC with the purpose of having an outside source examine the culture of CC and find solutions to help “audit our policies, practices, structures, and communications, as well as our academic and co-curricular programs.”
In May of 2019, the final external review was released, just days after students had departed campus for the summer. Page seven of the review emphasizes the need for the community to come together.
“There must be a balance between an overly controlled, centralized process versus a completely uncoordinated, fragmented set of grass-roots activities that characterize this work at CC—and it is therefore imperative that trust and collaboration become the defining characteristics of the Antiracism Initiative.”
The external review highlights nine goals that the college should aim to meet in order to advance the antiracism initiative. The goals are listed as follows:
Goal No. 1: Develop a Collaborative Implementation Plan for the Antiracism Initiative
Goal No. 2: Build Coalitions to Develop, Advance and Promote the Antiracism Initiative
Goal No. 3: Connect the CC Core Values to a Pledge of Antiracism at CC
Goal No. 4: Appoint Vice President for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Goal No. 5: Establish an Antiracist Curriculum Transformation Initiative
Goal No. 6: Enrollment Management and Student Life
Goal No. 7: Increase Faculty Diversity and Leadership
Goal No. 8: Increase Staff Diversity and Leadership
Goal No. 9: Strategic Communications Plan for the Antiracism Initiative
The concluding sentence of the review highlights the positive change the Antiracism Initiative could bring, saying, “The antiracism initiative has the potential to help the institution heal from the legacy of the past and to stand apart from other colleges and universities by becoming an exemplar of inclusive excellence in higher education.”
During the summer of 2019, the school drafted an implementation plan with a timeline and metrics to track progress of the antiracism goals for this institution. The draft plan was shared in the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year and invited feedback from the Diversity and Equity Advisory Board, the Faculty Executive Committee, the CCSGA, Staff Council and other faculty, staff and student groups to provide feedback on the plan.
The final plan, published in Block 4 last semester, did not require any input from the aforementioned groups. The plan, which highlights seven implementation goals for the college, ironically excluded some of the most important stakeholders in this issue. Although Dr. Paul Buckley had been working on campus consistently and relentlessly as the Director of the Butler Center, he was not invited to be a part of the plan. The Antiracism Implementation Plan states that instead of relying on one Chief Diversity Officer, the college would establish a campus committee and change the leadership to a three person team made up of experts in equity, diversity and inclusion.
Nonetheless, this eliminated the position of Dr. Paul Buckley. Furthermore, he was informed of this change the day of the release of the implementation plan and was invited to reapply for one of the three positions.
During his tenure, Dr. Buckley worked on numerous fronts, establishing missions for the Butler Center, developing and implementing the “Good to Great” seminar for diversity, equity and inclusion education for staff and faculty, and significantly building sustainable friendships and mentor relationships with staff, faculty and students. His efforts have been long recognized and highly appreciated by members of the community. Dr. Buckley was one of the only three staff who was present during the open forum for the Hockey House incident in the Glass House last year.
Interestingly, CC planned to eliminate the position of one of the few staff of color working for diversity and inclusion on campus in order to “increase” the diversity efforts on campus.
Needless to say, many members in the community were disappointed with the decision made by the administration. This also pointed out larger systemic issues that reside in institutions like ours: transparency and accountability.
On Jan. 20, 2020, during All People’s Breakfast, a large group of students walked out after publicly rejecting the Antiracism Implementation Plan proposed by the campus. The walk out was followed by the release of the Open Letter (also published in The Catalyst the first week of fifth block) which demanded:
1. The retraction of the “Antiracism” Implementation Plan
2. The Administration’s attendance at an Open Forum
3. A public apology to Dr. Paul Buckley and the Butler Center staff for how the office was treated regarding the “antiracism” plan.
4. A substantial statement with an apology to the entire community about the incompetence and the failure of “antiracism” efforts at Colorado College and detailed next steps responding to student concerns during the First Monday talk of Block 6
The open letter had 551 student signatures, six staff signatures and eight faculty signatures.
One of the biggest criticisms from the students and faculty is that the antiracism efforts seem to have been taken over by the administration and dictated on their own terms and understandings. These criticisms carried into the Open Forum, which was conducted on Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the Gates Common Room.
The Open Forum, which was livestreamed, was attended by hundreds, including staff, faculty and community members.
The Open Forum on Tuesday was perhaps the first campus-wide open platform where students had an opportunity to hold the administration accountable face-to-face. The Open Forum, which was moderated by Ramah Aleryan ’20, Shane Brown ’20, and Sakina Bhatti ’22, invited the audience to be critical about the implementation plan and how it was conducted.
Aleryan, co-leader of Students for Justice in Palestine and one of the founders of the Solidarity Coalition, posed an existential question to the audience and the school: “Who is the Antiracism Implementation Plan for?” She highlighted Ibram X. Kendi’s point that being an antiracist or racist is not a permanent state — one can only strive to be one or the other.
Shane emphasized that students were optimistic about the college’s efforts in becoming an antiracist institution in the beginning; however, after repeated cases of injustices towards students, staff and faculty, that optimism has diminished. In an interview with him, he expressed not only the disappointment but also the lack of trust towards the administration at the moment. He said, “Every day, you all get to hop in your cars, go home, and put this place behind you until you clock back in. We don’t get to go home. We don’t get to escape this environment; we don’t get to forget about it.”
Fiachra MacFadden ’20 conducted a presentation on the history of racism at CC, which not only showed its extreme and public racism, but also pointed out that similar efforts on campus have been attempted before — yet with the change of staff and the presidency, the campus was not held accountable. With President Tiefenthaler’s expected departure from campus next year, the students fear that history could repeat itself.
MacFadden, along with Bhatti and others, pointed out that racism does not need to be acted upon only when something horrific happens, like the racist email. It needs to be tackled and worked upon together every day.
However, the Open Forum did not seek to create more division between the administration and the rest of the community members. The students repeatedly offered an invitation to the administration to work together with all groups on campus to make the college actually equitable and inclusive.
At the end, under the invitation of the Solidarity Coalition, President Tiefenthaler apologized for what happened with Dr. Buckley and recognized the shortcoming of the administration by not working with students to their full capacity.
The group of students kickstarting these efforts on campus identify themselves as the Solidarity Coalition group, which is a grassroots student organization that aims to use civil resistance, direct action and social media to transform Colorado College into a just and equitable institution. The coalition, in their own words, “is an evolving collective of student leaders representing marginalized as well as privileged peoples across the campus community. We strive to model and cultivate a campus that embodies transparency, accountability, integrity, equal opportunity and treatment for ALL at Colorado College: students, faculty, and staff. We are demanding answers on the lack of transparency and accountability regarding equity and inclusion efforts.”
One thing remains certain: this process of becoming an anti-racist institution is complex, difficult and requires not only transparency but also the willingness to work together. The Open Forum was one of the first steps organized by the students, but is unlikely to be the last.