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CU Boulder community asks for dismantling systemic racism in the school

"It's time for the people in power to use that power to create sufficient change," LeAnna T. Luney, a doctoral candidate at CU Boulder, said.

BOULDER, Colo. — University of Colorado Boulder (CU)staff, students, faculty and community members are demanding change from school leadership. They say CU Boulder has failed to support Black, indigenous people of color on its campus.

CU Black Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC) students and staff scheduled a press conference with Colorado House Representative, and CU Boulder alumna, Leslie Herod, (D-Denver) to demand funds be divested from CU Police Department and invested in CU BIPOC.

The press conference was live-streamed via Facebook on Tuesday.

The group asked for several changes to address systemic racism, including de-funding CU Police, mandatory anti-racism training every year and additional funding for programs that support black, indigenous people of color.

They also asked that school leadership do some reflection and look at areas where they could be doing a better job.

"A lot of us feel uncomfortable when we do dive deep into these intimate feelings that we might not understand when it comes to race and racism," said doctoral candidate LeAnna T. Luney. "However, some of us have the power to actually create change. Us on this platform, have worked tirelessly. A lot of us over the summer but a lot of students have been working tirelessly for years at this university so it's time for the people in power to use that power to create sufficient change."

In response to recent criticism, Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced a new task force that will evaluate community policing policies, practices and training. The task force will be made up of students, faculty and staff.

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But the group today called the task-force performative promises that didn't include any of the people in the ethnic studies department, who are a part of the group that called for this and want to be involved.

The Department of Ethnic Studies created an anti-racism curriculum and is asking the school to consider that as mandatory training for everyone in the CU Boulder community.

Laura Gonzalez, Biochemistry; Chemistry; Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Advisor was also on the call. 

"We have to be courageous to learn and we may make mistakes along the way. When we are learning it’s important to understand it’s not about us when we offend someone else given that it’s not intentional," she said. "So if we apologize we take responsibility to learn on our own, we don’t have students, faculty and staff who are BIPOC to teach us and we move forward.”

9NEWS asked CU Boulder to respond to the press conference below is their statement:

Statement

CU Boulder is committed to fostering an inclusive, collaborative process related to any aspect of the university’s priorities––and creating a more inclusive campus is certainly one of our highest priorities. We are working to educate our community––all students, faculty and staff––to create a university campus that supports and enables the success of all who come to CU Boulder to pursue their academic and career goals, including individuals from historically underrepresented groups. BIPOC students, faculty and staff and other shared governance and stakeholder groups on campus will be part of this community engagement process going forward.

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Below is a Q&A with the spokesperson for CU Boulder Deborah Mendez-Wilson. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

They’re asking for mandatory annual 16 weeks of anti-racism training for faculty and one semester for students. The department of Ethnic Studies has released a curriculum for this. Is this something the school can do? Has considered doing? Has school leadership seen the curriculum?

Answer: Not only are we aware of the course developed by Ethnic Studies Professor Jennifer Ho and doctoral student Shawn O’Neal, we wrote about it and shared the story across all of our main campus communication channels. Here is the story about the free Coursera course they developed, which is available to all students, faculty and staff through the university’s CU on Coursera program

We are implementing many other mandatory and optional trainings and courses that will become available to our entire community over the next academic year and beyond to address systemic racism and to proactively support antiracism and equity on our campus. These efforts include a mandatory bystander and community equity course that fulfills the chancellor’s eight actions for immediate change and the new Title IX rules that took effect on Aug. 14. In addition, our Center for Teaching and Learning offers a self-paced antiracism course to faculty, staff and students. We know we have a long way to go, but stand ready to work with BIPOC and other students, faculty and staff to create a more inclusive university community.

They’re asking for de-funding of CU-PD and investing in CU BIPOC organizations and programs. Can you tell us if the school is seriously considering this, and do you have a timeline on actions?

Answer: Our campus police department serves a critical role in providing emergency support to students, faculty and staff during crises and major campus events. They also work closely with partner law enforcement agencies in the surrounding Boulder County community during floods, wildfires and other life-safety events that have the potential to impact our campus community. Supporting critical campus safety services and investing in BIPOC students, faculty and staff are not mutually exclusive. The chancellor, CUPD Chief Doreen Jokerst and other campus leaders have met with BIPOC students to hear their concerns and to collaborate on solutions. They will continue to do so for the foreseeable future as the campus begins implementing its diversity plan this fall under the guidance of the recently announced Council for Community and Inclusion, which also includes the participation of diverse student, faculty and staff voices.

The group mentioned CUPD plans to train officers to be mental health resources, but the group is asking for a separate entity doing that. Is this something the school and CUPD could do? 

Answer: CUPD Chief Doreen Jokerst made it a priority last fall to sign onto the One Mind campaign. The goal is to develop a model policy to implement police response to people who are impacted by mental illness. Here is an announcement we made in January related to this effort. Thus far, CUPD has established a sustainable partnership with community mental health organizations; has implemented a policy to address police response to persons affected by mental illness; and has provided CIT training to more than half of the department’s sworn officers. Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a police mental health collaborative training program to help guide interactions between law enforcement and those living with mental illness.

The group brought up the Police Taskforce that was created as a response to some concerns brought up but students felt like the BIPOC voices were left out. Can you respond to that?

Answer: The chancellor’s announcement today about the new Community Safety Task Force is in response to the chancellor’s eight actions for immediate change, his initiative to move quickly to effect immediate and positive change on our campus, and from ongoing engagement work between CUPD, our Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement (ODECE), our Center for Inclusion and Social Change in collaboration with a diverse coalition students and student groups following a racist incident on campus. More recently, Chief Jokerst’s community engagement work with BIPOC students was formed after student leaders asked her to participate in a Boulder protest following the killing of George Floyd. She invited the Boulder police chief and the district attorney, and all walked together in solidarity with the community.

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