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Racist email at Colorado College is a sign of bigger changes needed

DiverseCity

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Last week I flew to sunny San Diego for a work retreat, and took in the waves at the beach before scooting up to Los Angeles where I met some cousins for the first time, including one who lives in Toledo, Ohio. An African woman with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, she recently developed a bilevel equalizer to prolong battery life in electric vehicles, planes and grid stations.

Between meetings, I popped on my social media accounts to post photos and check the news from home. Thumbing through my Facebook feed, I noticed several of my Colorado College friends were vocalizing their disgust about an overtly racist email that was sent out to the student body. The message was a derogatory attack on Rochelle Mason, CC’s senior associate dean of students, and Mike Edmonds, dean of students and vice president of student life, plus black women and black people in general.

The sender, using a fake name, boasts of the superiority of whites and the economies of majority-white countries (many of which were built using the resources of African countries, to include their people), all while denigrating the “cognitive abilities” of blacks and the economies of black-majority countries.

Let me pause to point out that race is a social construct, and many African countries, and African-Americans, are still reeling from a history of colonial conquest.

The supremacist email was masked under a narrative of support for former CC student Thaddeus Pryor, who, a few years back, posted on social media that black women “matter, they’re just not hot.” Pryor’s post (which he intended to be anonymous) sparked a debate, fueled by The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), about whether Pryor’s hate speech should be protected by the college under the First Amendment. The college believed Pryor should be punished, and both Mason and Edmonds were involved in Pryor’s suspension. He later graduated.

The recent hate email likely wasn’t just a late-to-the-game defense of Pryor. This emailer was bold enough to spew his ethnic-cleansing rhetoric in hopes it would be well received at a school with little ethnic diversity.
It’s been more than a century since the first African-American students were admitted to CC. Yet, in fall 2017, less than a quarter of the college’s student population were people of color. The University of Colorado at Boulder did about the same at 24 percent, while the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was slightly better at 32 percent. These schools can talk all day about diversity, but actions speak louder than words. Academic institutions are one of the biggest equalizers in our society. Snailing our way to a diverse population sends a message that people of color have to wait for some type of “worthiness pass,” or come in one at a time in order to be accepted.

But there are those — even the powerful among us — who wish to see a different narrative, who believe in inclusiveness. And this incident has provided a blueprint for how to exercise ally-ship.

Take it from Rebecca Glazer, a Jewish student at CC, who posted to Facebook, “Our school needs more diversity, not less. Our POC [persons of color] students, staff, faculty, and administrators — our friends and mentors — make this school richer in so many ways ... and yet how many classes only have one POC in the room, or none? Our school already too closely resembles our disturbed emailer’s vision. So to the school I say, if you truly mean what you say, that those white-supremacist sentiments have no place on our campus, then walk the walk. Admit more POC students. Hire more tenure-track POC faculty.”

Another woke CC student, Anna Wermuth, messaged me to say that although there is some diversity at the school, there’s an obvious oversight. “Because admissions isn’t need-blind, it can turn away an excellent student of color because of their financial need,” she says. “And I’m aware that this indeed has happened. Thus, the students that constitute the ‘diverse’ part of the student body are tasked with pointing out these constant injustices.”

In the wake of the email, there is a lot of talk at CC about organizing discussions on race. But to truly show our support for Mason, Edmonds and all students/staff/faculty of color, I pray our young people in this community won’t let this rest until there is a visible difference at the school.

The consequences of wealth disparity are often most visible through the eyes of racial disparity. Let’s hope that CC, and other institutions of higher ed, start doing more to level the playing field for tomorrow’s leaders.

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