Posted on October 19, 2006

Racism On Colorado University’s Campus

From: Joanne Belknap [mailto:joanne. [email protected]]

Sent: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 9:56 AM

To: Phil Distefano; Office of the President; Peter Steinhauer; RegentSchauer; jerry rutledge; Tom Lucero; Regent Hayes; Gail Schwartz; Regent Bosley; regent carlisle; Regent Carrigan

Cc: christie yoshinaga-itano; Elease Robbins; Ron Stump; Polly McLean; Hillary Potter

Subject: Racism on CU’s Campus

Dear President Brown, Chancellor Distefano, and Board of Regents:

For the second year in a row (at least) the CU Ski and Snowboard Club (CUSSC) advertised and implemented a “gangsta theme” kick off meeting. The flyer that I saw this year is very racist, with “gangsta” in large letters and the only photographs are of African American men.

It’s no secret that CU is desperately unsuccessful in recruiting and retaining faculty and students of color. Indeed, we have numerous committees, summits, and workshops to combat racism on campus and the number of scholarships for students of color is growing. But the retention and recruitment of students and faculty of color will always be a problem while the climate is one that allows a mockery of targeted and underrepresented (?) groups. For me, this is particularly poignant given that I’m teaching the course “Race, Class, Gender and Crime” this semester and one of the readings in the text this week was about the portrayal of African Americans as criminals when there are few other portrayals of them, especially positive ones.

Needless to say, I’m not the only one offended by this portrayal. A number of faculty and students have brought this flyer up with me. But I’m even more distressed by reports from some of our students of color that their attempts to educate and sensitize the CUSSC leadership resulted in extremely poor and insulting behavior and responses. After meeting with the leadership of the CUSSC and explaining the offensiveness of the flyer, some of the students attended “gangsta theme” meeting in Chem 140 on campus. They were provided with a token and meaningless apology as they continued with their “gangsta” meeting, replete with actual lap dances (photographs were on their website), racist lyrics to rap songs they made up about (Black) women as “hos,” and so on. One student described it to me as a sort of minstrel show.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, according to those who attended, at this same “gangsta” meeting they announced an upcoming “Mexican Theme” party with the intention of a *Quinceañera, *for which they were sponsors. In case you aren’t familiar with this celebration, here is a description (found at :

*The Quinceaños, or la fiesta Quinceañera, is a rite of passage for fifteen-year-old Latina girls.* It is a community and family celebration full of tradition and meaning when a young girl is symbolically escorted into womanhood by her family and the event is witnessed by her community. The word itself comes from the Spanish *quince,* “fifteen,” and *años,*”years.” The origins of the Quinceañera are often attributed to the ancient customs of the Aztecs, but the ceremony and meaning behind it are similar to other ancient cultural initiation rites that occurred throughout the world. Fifteen was the age when many young women left their family home to become wives and then mothers, and almost as though passing through an invisible door, a Latina enters her Quinceañera as a child but emerges as a young woman with new responsibilities. Those who know and love her will see and treat her differently from that day forward.

The students weren’t sure if it took place, but it was scheduled to take place at a Denver Theatre. I feel an analogy of the *Quinceañera* “theme” could be made to the CUSSC holding a fake bat or bar mitzvah theme party, which would be insulting on religious grounds for obvious reasons. What concerns me most is that these racist and offensive themes don’t seem to be based merely on ignorance. Rather, they seem to be an “in your face” reaction to the students of color who’ve clearly expressed the effect of such meetings/parties.

At best, CUSSC is completely unconcerned that they’ve offended some of the students and faculty of color. At worst, and this seems to be the case, they are intent on proving they can mock underrepresented racial/ethnic groups using racist stereotypes and co-opting cultural traditions for their own amusement.

If the leadership of this campus is serious about substituting the racist climate for one more amenable to members of underrepresented racial groups, a crucial part of the puzzle in recruitment and retention, then there should be some sanctioning of the CUSSC’s advertising and implementation of racially offensive theme meetings. In the 1980s, when I was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, a white fraternity held a “Martin Luther King Trash Party,” complete with inflammatory racist flyers that mocked and denigrated Black culture, making national news. Students demanded a permanent expulsion of the fraternity. Although the end result was a one-year suspension from campus *and* one year commitment to community service and racial awareness programs, the point was made that such racist insensitivity would not be tolerated. Yet, twenty years later, at the University of Colorado, there seems to be no effort to sanction the CUSSC for their continued racist theme parties.

If the CU leadership continues to disregard this club’s outrageously rude and offensive behavior, it is very likely that students and faculty (and perhaps, members of the off-campus community) will pose a more public upset. If there are no sanctions of the CUSSC, or merely hand-slapping, it is likely that CU will face a more public outcry from people like me who find this behavior unacceptable on a campus we are working hard to make more racially and ethnically diverse and welcoming. This is beyond free speech. It is unacceptable and needs a serious message from the CU leadership.


Joanne Belknap, Ph.D.ProfessorSociology and Women & Gender Studies