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“It just makes me feel like a target,” said Eyere Ketia, a member of the University of Colorado’s Black Student Alliance, at the group’s meeting Wednesday evening in the Center for Community. “Makes me feel fear.”
Ketia, a junior who has been active in the student group commonly called BSA since her freshman year, was referring to an incident of various racial slurs and racially charged phrases — “KKK,” “Fuck colored people” and “White power!” — being written on a bathroom stall wall on campus. The etched graffiti was first seen as early as Feb. 9 by a student, and another student informed BSA Co-President Paris Ferribee around Feb. 25.
Ferribee reported the incident directly to the CU Police Department, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Chancellor and the Cultural Unity and Engagement (CUE) Center on the afternoon of Feb. 25, urging swiftness in responding to the slurs.
“I gave them personally 24 hours,” Ferribee said, noting that BSA had plans to take action if the incident was not handled quickly. “It was gonna be like Missouri at CU-Boulder. BSA came up with…plans to demonstrate.”
Ferribee posted a photo of the stall on the group’s Facebook page, which has since accumulated 344 reactions, 166 shares and 47 comments.
“I think BSA definitely made [the university’s reaction] happen,” Ferribee said. “I think the fact that we posted that picture and had 200-plus likes and…spread like wildfire — CU didn’t want bad PR.”
The university has a policy of responding to reports of hate speech-related incidents, as well as reports of sexual abuse and harassment, within 24 to 48 hours; the response given depends on the type of incident reported. According to Randy McCrillis, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and director of the CUE Center, the slurs were removed from the wall and replaced with a poster with a message from the university denouncing the act within 24 hours, as Ferribee requested. The stall also had written on it the words “Go Greek! Go Rape!”
Chancellor Phillip DiStefano put out a message in his “Chancellor’s Corner” segment of CU-Boulder Today, the campus news service students receive by email. DiStefano’s statement denounced the graffiti as “reprehensible” and added that the university “completely rejects” it.
“Just to have that small sheet of paper to show your inclusivity [isn’t enough],” said Samantha Williams, co-president of BSA.
The reaction to the incident came on the heels of a video about how CU could improve its diversity and inclusivity released by the university on its Facebook page on Feb. 23, which many students took issue with.
“As the video goes on, it transitions from talking about whether CU is inclusive to people saying ‘Yes, CU’s inclusive,’” Williams said. “Like there wasn’t any room for improvement, which was problematic.”
Both the video and the incident fall in the context of the recent release of the 2014 campus social climate survey results, which highlighted how largely some groups of students of color — black students in particular — feel unwelcome on the CU-Boulder campus. Students in the African-American category of undergraduate enrollment, according to the survey, make up 1.6 percent of the student population by fall 2015 numbers. Out of 26, 491 students, that translates to a count of 429.
The university has been working since last May to create a comprehensive plan to improve the diversity and inclusivity of the staff, faculty and student population on campus. In the wake of anti-racism protests at the University of Missouri, the administration has made efforts to foster dialogue with students and has met with BSA leadership regularly. BSA has recently proposed and discussed initiatives to address diversity on campus to administration.
Efforts to change the culture on campus have been especially ramped up during spring semester — the Spring 2016 Diversity and Inclusion Summit, a racial inclusion forum and two social dynamics panels (one still upcoming) have all been part of the push to gather input from students, faculty and staff on campus.
“I think it’s a very positive thing that we’re having these events, but I’d really like to see some initiatives and some follow-through,” Williams said. “I’d like to see some change.”
“I think the way [the incident] was handled was good for now,” Ferribee said. “I think the administration is starting to notice that students on campus…are serious about diversity and inclusivity, and that there will be problems if it’s [not addressed].”
The Campus Climate Response Team, which responded to the incident, is an expansion of a previous group out of Student Affairs, which was the Bias Motivated Team. The CCRT is housed under the OIEC.
“The Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) is a relatively new department and responding to events that target protected class members as a group is a new role,” said Regina Tirella, director of remedial and protective measures and deputy Title IX coordinator for CU. The OIEC was created in August 2014, when all investigations into allegations of harassment and discrimination were consolidated into one office.
“Protocols for responding are being developed with the graffiti vandalism protocol to be finalized within the next few weeks,” Tirella said.
Going forward, BSA plans to communicate with the university to work to discourage and minimize incidents like these. Ferribee plans to discuss the incident with DiStefano.
“I would like to gauge his understanding of the situation, [and] how he thinks it was handled,” said Ferribee, who also expressed concern that CU’s “Report It” system is not sufficiently well-known to students. “A student just emailed me this week in regards to a racial incident, because they did not know what else to do.”
Ketia was concerned that acts like that of the graffitiing could intensify.
“The microaggressions that we don’t see on the public scale…[other students] don’t see it because they’re not meant to see it,” Ketia said. “What happens when someone gets mad and brings a gun to school to make a point?”
The fear and discomfort students have discussed and vented at various campus events, in theory, will move the campus toward being more conscious and proactive about diversity and inclusivity. The deadline set for department chairs and directors to submit input on diversity and inclusivity, which was already pushed back a month from Feb. 15, passed this Tuesday. It remains to be seen how that move, and other efforts by the university, will translate into change for the campus.
If you witness, hear about or experience an incident of harassment, discrimination, unwanted sexual behavior, abuse in a relationship, stalking, related retaliation or crimes, you can report the incident at CU-Boulder’s Report It website.