Joining forces with U.S. Rep Leslie Herod, Gwendalynn Roebke and fellow University of Colorado BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) activists demanded divestment from the University of Colorado Police Department (CUPD) and investment in CU BIPOC Tuesday morning in a Facebook live event hosted via diversifyCUnow’s Facebook page.
DiversifyCUnow was founded in June by a group of about ten graduate students following their release of a petition, with over 2800 signatures, to Diversify CU Boulder. The group has since expanded beyond Boulder to elevate demands from BIPOC activists for diversification across University of Colorado campuses.
“DiversifyCUnow’s short and long term goals are to amplify the voices of CU’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students, staff, faculty and administration,” said the group in a statement. DiversifyCUnow hosted the press conference, establishing a platform upon which CU BIPOC leaders could be heard.
Speakers called for divestment from CUPD, investment in mental health for BIPOC folx, increases in substantive and mandatory antiracism training for CU students, faculty and staff and increases in funding and support for BIPOC initiatives. By making these changes, conference organizer Roebke explained, “CU will finally be taking an overdue step to dismantling racist systems and (set) up their BIPOC community to thrive instead of only survive.”
Representative Herod voiced her support for the speakers, saying, “I believe that it’s incumbent upon us to listen, to hear what the youth have to say, to lift up their voices.”
This Divest to Invest initiative at CU has been in the works throughout the summer, on the heels of nationwide movements to divest from the police.
“Divesting from police is divesting from white supremacy,” Roebke said.
“I think it’s really important for all of us to understand that we have been indoctrinated into this white (supremacist) system,” said College of Arts & Sciences advisor and BIPOC activist Laura Gonzalez. “That whiteness framework is where we tend to support the police or say that the police is here to support us.”
Instead of continuing to fund this body, the Divest to Invest initiative demands investment in programs that may be more supportive of BIPOC.
“We’ve been tired of the university ignoring our (BIPOC) needs for mental health services, substantive anti-racism training, and increased funding to BIPOC led/run community initiatives on campus,” Roebke said in a statement. “We have created, if anything, a roadmap that the university can follow for the next however long it takes for us to get every single aspect of the divestment plan implemented.”
Roebke is also the lead organizer of the Radical BIPOC Womxn/Femme Collective, an informal group focused on supporting BIPOC womxn/femmes (the spelling womxn aims to remove ‘men’ from the word’s root, the use of this word as well as femmes, those identifying as feminine, aims to include all individuals who may be targeted by misogyny).
“I initially assembled the group after hearing about multiple instance of assault, abuses of power towards BIPOC womxn/femme and myself having the need for a space where allies and white fragility were not prioritized over the lived experiences and uncomfortable realities BIPOC womxn/femmes,” Roebke explained.
A major focus of the Divest to Invest movement is the mental health of BIPOC community members.
“We are advocating for the implementation of mental health professionals and programing within CUPD and the Boulder Police Department,” said undergraduate BIPOC leader Ruth Woldemichael at the conference.
Woldemichael points to systems implemented in Oregon, Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS), and in Denver, Support Team Assistance Response (STAR). These services focus on providing professional help in myriad situations such as suicide prevention, grief counseling, conflict resolution, and meditation, providing 24/7 access to non-armed, trained mental health and medical professionals.
The Divest to Invest plan calls for increases in substantive and comprehensive anti-racist training. This training would include a 16-week intensive training for all CU Boulder employees and a separate antiracism course as a degree requirement for all students. The plan emphasizes “trainings done by us for us to represent us, with all facilitators identifying as BIPOC,” read its press release issued Tuesday.
The Divest to Invest plan demands greater funding for BIPOC initiatives. Alumnus Olivia Gardner explained that this fund would be “set aside and made by and for the BIPOC community members with the goal to create a space for critical engagement with race and ethnicity, BIPOC mentorship and action towards reported racially motivated incidents.”
Finally, the initiative calls for the funding of comprehensive, BIPOC inclusive oversight of campus police.
“This board will have the power to review current officers and potential hires and advise the removal of officers deemed dangerous,” explained Gardner.
She emphasized the importance of “ensuring that it is an autonomous entity from the CU Student Government and the University of Colorado Police Department, but that it still receives ample funding so that all student participants will be compensated and supported in their work.
“We’ve been in conversations with chief Jokerst and other student leaders and people involved with CUPD and we brought up the idea of a police accountability board,” Woldemichael said.
In response to Chancellor Philip DiStefano’s email, sent to the entire CU community outlining a Community Safety Task Force, with the goal of increasing transparency and accountability in CU police, Woldemichael said, “the narrative of that was kind of taken away from us and controlled and put into this task force where our voices were still left out of the implementation.”
“Do I see this as a hopeful step in the right direction?” Woldemichael asked. “No, we don’t know who’s sitting on the task force… there’s still not full transparency,” she answered.
An email sent Tuesday explained that members of the CU Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Government would sit on the task force, but there is no mention of actively including members of the BIPOC community.
“What is the point of creating something if our voices are continually left out of it?” expressed Woldemichael.
“It’s about our lives,” concluded Laura Gonzalez, Arts & Sciences academic advisor, emphasizing the need for all BIPOC individuals to be heard. “Not including BIPOC students or staff and making decisions about what’s best for us is an actual macroaggression.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Mairead Brogan at firstname.lastname@example.org.