On March 14, the University of Colorado Boulder hosted the Chancellor’s Annual Summit at History Colorado in downtown Denver. The summit focused on the role higher education institutions play in advancing diversity and democratic principles in society.
“Higher education has played and continues to play an instrumental role in shaping the world, our country, our state and our local communities,” said Ryan Chreist, the assistant vice chancellor of alumni relations at CU Boulder. “It’s also helped to shape our democracy.”
In his remarks at the summit, Chancellor Phillip DiStefano said universities play an important role in shaping democracy. DiStefano cited studies claiming that faith in both higher education institutions and American democracy is “eroding.”
“I remain encouraged that within our nation’s public universities, including CU Boulder, so much of our research, our scholarship and our education has some connection to these important topics as we seek to produce informed graduates of all backgrounds who will become tomorrow’s leaders,” DiStefano said.
DiStefano said he aims for the university to “enable social mobility,” “support free speech,” conduct informed research and encourage democratic participation.
This was not the first time DiStefano discussed themes such as democracy and free speech. The State of the Campus address hosted in September 2022 promoted these same ideals to attendees.
The summit also hosted four experts affiliated with the university to discuss CU Boulder’s role in specific areas relating to democracy and diversity.
John-Michael Rivera, one of the event’s guest speakers, explained the concept of “Amexica,” an America diversified by the influence of Mexico. Rivera discussed how different politicians and organizations, such as former president Donald Trump and Fox News, portrayed the diversification of the U.S. and how this has impacted the nation’s general view on increasing diversity.
“More immigrant children are being born in the United States than white children, a fact that Fox News commentators have passed [to] administration…to ferment fear among viewership,” Rivera said.
Rivera, a professor of English and humanities at CU Boulder, is a published author and the recipient of the Kayden and Pope awards, awards intended to fund research and support English department faculty, respectively. Rivera curates El Laboratorio, a literary space for writers of Latinx descent and co-created CrossBorders, a collective of international writers.
“We must ask difficult questions about what it means to live in a diverse democracy,” Rivera said. “What it means to be part of a country that is pulling itself apart because of [the] disparity of demographic change.”
Rivera’s statements about demographic changes apply to CU Boulder as well. Enrollment of students of color has increased by 9% from the graduating class of 2012 to the class of 2021, according to the CU diversity report for the 2021 to 2022 academic year.
Another guest speaker, Violeta Chapin, is a former trial defender attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and a current professor of law at CU Boulder. Chapin also discussed the diversification of the United States, specifically as it relates to immigration and CU Boulder’s core principles as a university.
Chapin encouraged discourse throughout the summit while also asking audiences to focus on the similarities in their viewpoints on democracy rather than their differences.
“We want to make sure that the university is always on the forefront of presenting different ideas and that we provide opportunities for people to have those conversations, which can sometimes be difficult,” said Sarah Adderholt, the executive director of events and outreach in the Chancellor’s office.
Guests were given the opportunity after the summit to attend a reception, allowing them to discuss the topics presented by the speakers.
“Bringing different faculty with different perspectives together to talk about a similar topic and inviting the public to come be a part of it is one way that we start those conversations,” Adderholt said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jessi Sachs at firstname.lastname@example.org.