Rocky Mountain News, Julie Poppen, Oct.21, 2006
The University of Colorado’s Ski and Snowboard Club was tapping into the hip-hop culture it embraces when it advertised a “gangsta”-themed gathering last month, an organizer said Friday.
The fliers featured several black gangsta rappers and faux bullet holes.
But students and faculty of color didn’t see it that way and now a CU professor — in a letter made public last week — is demanding that CU’s largest and perhaps most visible campus club be sanctioned.
The flap comes as the mostly white Boulder campus strives to increase diversity and improve the climate for minority students.
The gangsta theme was dropped and an apology issued. The club’s leadership is attending diversity training and doing what the administration has asked of them, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Ron Stump said Friday.
But that doesn’t erase what happened a month ago when at least 350 of the 2,800 members of the club, also known as Boulder Freeride, gathered on campus. Some members who hadn’t checked their e-mail showed up in baggy pants and “bling” hoping to win prizes.
A club leader apologized, but lap dances and a freestyle rap contest ensued.
CU Black Student Alliance members who accepted an invitation to attend described it as a modern-day minstrel show.
Leaders say that’s not what the club had in mind.
Stump said the club’s actions are protected by the First Amendment. Fliers and clothing may be offensive, but “there’s been court cases over that.”
That’s not how CU gender and women’s studies professor Joanne Belknap sees it.
Last week Belknap wrote a letter to the regents, President Hank Brown and other campus leaders asking that the club be sanctioned.
“At best, CUSSC is completely unconcerned that they’ve offended some of the students and faculty of color,” she wrote. “At worst, they are intent on proving they can mock underrepresented racial/ethnic groups using racist stereotypes and co-opting cultural traditions.”
Belknap’s letter mysteriously showed up on the American Renaissance Web site, which describes itself as “a conservative monthly publication” promoting “white racial positions.”
She has since received racist e-mail.