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Battling Campus Racism-Leaders Demand Action

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Battling Racism on Campus
- Leaders Demand Action in Response to On-going Incidents

Posted 01-05-06

A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 5 Denver Weekly News

DENVER, CO - A group of leaders came together, Jan. 3, to speak against the conditions Black students are subjected to at the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder. A mid-morning press conference, called by the Greater Metropolitan Denver Ministerial Alliance (GMDMA), was held at New Hope Baptist Church where a number of ministers, elected officials and others voiced their outrage over the continuing mistreatment a number of non-White students are encountering on or near the campus.

GMDMA President, Pastor Paul Burleson declared that the situation has gone on for too long and the culture of racial bias has been in place since the 1970s with little change even today. Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth agreed when she shared that her oldest brother attended the university in the 1960s and encountered the same type of discrimination students are facing today. Senator Peter Groff explained that he and Representative Terrance Carroll began making trips to the campus last spring as a result of student concerns.

The Complaints

Last February, participants of the Big 12 Conference on Black Student Government made allegations of racist comments and discriminatory treatment afforded them when they came to the city for the event hosted by CU's Black Student Alliance. The annual conference, which attracts hundreds of students, faculty and staff members from various universities, promotes leadership on social and cultural change and provides workshops along with networking and other opportunities. Participants were reportedly welcomed to CU with racist graffiti and racial slurs yelled at them from dormitory windows.

Weeks later, a male student received an offensive letter in his CU Student Union mailbox and later, another male was attacked near campus, by a Hispanic male who shouted racial slurs prior to accosting and breaking the jaw of the undergrad. Then, just weeks ago, a female student received a threatening email message containing a death threat and days after, a Hispanic athlete received derogatory internet messages from two White team mates who have since been reprimanded for their behavior. There have also been other reported incidents on campus and a number of students fear for their safety, according to Groff who has personally talked with some of the affected individuals. The senator expressed his desire to see a commitment from the flagship university and said that a change in the campus environment needs to happen this year.

Town Hall Meeting Scheduled

Former Mayor Wellington Webb voiced a similar sentiment by declaring that a much more aggressive African American community will be on the scene in 2006. He went on to say that Colorado's image is not well reflected in the fact that less than 500 of the more than 29,000 students at the state's university are Black, a setting that fails to provide the type of environment best suited for real education to take place. "You need people of all ethnic groups," he emphasized while adding that an independent audit or evaluation should be conducted, not only at CU but other state colleges and even the Denver and Aurora public school systems, to determine the quality of education for Black students in particular.

He applauded CU President Hank Brown's willingness to address the issues at hand and to work with Black leaders for resolution. The leaders announced an upcoming town hall meeting to be held Jan. 25 on the campus and which Brown is scheduled to participate in. The goal of the meeting is to provide an outlet where Black students and faculty can express their concerns and offer solutions to the difficulties they are confronted with as part of campus life.

Lack of Local Support?

Blacks make up less than 2% of Boulder's population and Burleson said very few have united to offer support for the students, but named a fellow minister as one who has been active with them. Pastor Hansford Vann of Second Baptist Church of Boulder, said he has worked with students and others in the community since he came to the city 31 years ago. Although 70% of his congregation is Black, he does not choose to emphasize that because of his belief that God is not a respecter of persons. He noted that the racial problems in Boulder are a result of people not reaching out, accepting and sharing with one another. He also recalled the experience of segregation he lived with growing up in Denver's Five Points neighborhood. An invisible and unspoken boundary, he said, restricted Blacks from seeking housing or traveling in many other areas of the city.

"We need to get past [that] history," he said in a phone interview. "Our Constitution says all men are created equal [but] I will ask anybody looking at CU, would you say all [the students] have an equal chance?"

He went on to state that nearly 15 CU students attend the Baptist church and that his congregation has always been ready and willing to support those who have made their complaints known. Otherwise, he could not speak for the rest of the city's Black residents and their level of interest in or support of the students.

The minister is amazed at how small the non-White student population is at the university and said that in spite of past programs and recruiting efforts to increase diversity, numbers have remained the same year after year. "We've come a long way but we still have a long way to go," he said.

Skepticism and Reverse Discrimination Complaints

Despite the focus and attention the campus incidents have drawn, some are demanding CU's president give equal attention to issues affecting White students whose concerns are many times ignored or overshadowed. So said Louis Calabro, President of European American Issues Forum (EAIF), a California-based group which is demanding Brown allow a White Privilege Symposium be held on the campus in September. The organization has a nationwide membership and Calabro became involved in the university's controversy because an associate who lives in Boulder brought it to his attention.

He said more focus should be given to the Black on White crimes that take place throughout the country rather than incidents of White students, who "don't have their heads in the right place," sending "stupid" letters expressing violent acts they most likely never intended to carry out.

"They just want to be mean spirited, that's all," he said. "How do you compare that with 770,000 Black on White crimes that are committed every year? Just because somebody says, I hate you because you are Black, and they just speak words, that is no way comparable to violent crimes that are committed against White people by Blacks."

He also suggested that the CU female student leader who received the email death threat might be perpetrating a hoax especially since no suspect has yet been identified.

"This student had been actively promoting a Boulder City Ordinance creating penalties for hate crimes prior to reporting the email," his December letter to President Brown stated. The letter, posted on EAIF's website continued: "We must note that hoax hate crimes are relatively common on campuses in America."

Calabro said he has yet to receive a response to his letter but in spite of his views, he did acknowledge that discrimination against Blacks has clearly taken place on the campus. "There is White privilege but there is also Black privilege and we ought to discuss the whole thing," he said.

We Want Action

The discussion come Jan. 25 will strictly be about the issues facing Black students and the words of Dr. James Peters at the press conference summed up many of the leaders' views. "We are tired of dialogue," GMDMA's Vice President at large said. "We want action."

- Adeeba Folami -
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