Published: June 5, 2020

June 5, 2020

Ethnic Studies Statement Supporting Protests Against Police Violence

The Ethnic Studies Program at the University of Colorado Denver stands in solidarity with the protesters demanding justice for Black lives taken by the police with impunity. We are horrified and enraged by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery, recognizing that the violence committed against them is a symptom of deeply entrenched, systemic anti-Black racism in the United States. As a program whose mission it is to foster and engage in the critical examination of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on historically marginalized racial groups in the US, we are, unfortunately, unsurprised by these recent atrocities committed against Black people. But we are also not surprised, and indeed we find hope in, the global protests which have developed—drawing as they do on the long and prolific legacies of Black activism. We condemn U.S. state-sanctioned violence against people of color, both domestically and around the globe, in the strongest possible terms. We call on our university to take decisive and immediate action to address our role in that violence, specifically the perpetuation of anti-Black racism and White supremacy at our institution.

As has been argued by many scholars and activists–most recently by protestors over the past week and a half–Black deaths resulting from police violence should not be reduced to the actions of individual “bad apples”. This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of racism and the realities of White supremacy in the US. These deaths are damning indications of a profoundly ingrained system of institutionalized racism and state violence that have defined the US from its beginnings. While police violence is one of the most conspicuous examples it is also fundamentally connected to, and often results from, other manifestations  of racism including major inequities in housing, health care, access to safe resources and spaces, and educational and job opportunities. As such, the CU Denver Ethnic Studies Program stands in solidarity with the millions of people around the world who are protesting the killing of George Floyd while recognizing that these major inequities are also resulting in a disproportionate number of deaths among Black and Indigenous people from COVID-19.

Our knowledge of the historical diversity and success of a variety of anti-racist protest methods as well as the media’s documented (re)production of racist tropes calls us to be critical of the “good” versus “bad” protestors paradigm that has emerged in contemporary media coverage. Though the racial frames through which the media is representing the protests might have us in despair, we look to the history of racial struggle in the United States and draw strength. In the mid-and late-1960s, the Black Freedom Movement (including the Civil Rights and Black Power movements) pushed the nation to profound levels of self-critique ,inspiring many to imagine what a new, more humane society could be. Today, protestors and activists are imagining, pushing toward, and manifesting a better future.

We all have a responsibility to actively engage in creating sorely needed change for a more just and equitable society. We in the CU Denver Ethnic Studies Program take our educational responsibility seriously and remain committed to providing much-needed space for investigating the nature of race and racism as powerful social and political forces that are deeply connected to other forms of identity and oppression including those related to ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, nation, and religion (among others); highlighting the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of racism and White supremacy in the US in transnational context; and raising up the voices and examples of ancestors who worked toward, and continue to inspire, necessary social and political transformations for future generations. Put more plainly, we remain committed to offering accessible anti-racist courses and workshops for students, faculty, staff, and administration and will continue to support, promote, and work with both on-campus services, like the Center for Identity and Inclusion and off-campus organizations in our communities.

However, it is difficult to sustain our mission as a program given the current climate in which Ethnic Studies is all too often undervalued and underfunded and, as a result, programs are attacked and dismantled. There is a direct connection between our society’s ability to acknowledge, work toward, and succeed in addressing racism and White supremacy and the education we as individuals receive about race, systemic racism, and US history. In other words, there are fundamental connections between police killings of Black people and university priorities, policies, and practices which insidiously exclude and/or erase the histories and knowledges of, as well as opportunities for and experiences of, people of color in higher education. While the university's commitment, through the Office of Equity, to host a series of social justice teach-ins is a good first step, systemic change requires further, sustained commitment.

As such we demand that:

· CU Denver, and the University of Colorado system more broadly, fund and advertise Ethnic Studies programs and departments as essential.

· The university immediately grant department status to the Ethnic Studies Program.

· The university release an actionable plan by fall 2020 to promote the hiring and retention of employees of color in all facets of university life, especially in administration and faculty.

· The university publicly commit to replacing Dr. Paula Espinoza's position with a tenure-track line in Latinx studies for fall 2021 and that future Ethnic Studies retirees’ positions will also be replaced with tenure-track lines.

· University administration at all levels publicly commit to and show evidence of full participation in diversity, inclusion, and equity training workshops by August 2020.

· Diversity, inclusion, and equity services, such as, but not limited to, the Center for Identity and Inclusion, Undocumented Students Services ,and the Women and Gender Center begiven funding for additional, full-time staff and given a space larger, unified space conducive to large scale, community work.

· CU Denver start a transparent, national search for a new Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion by the beginning of the fall 2020 semester; provide full transparency about the selection process; and, in the meantime, ensure an external, independent committee evaluate the performance and effectiveness of the interim structure for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion by the end of the fall 2020 semester.

· Publicly commit to and release a plan for reevaluating the university’s relationship with the Denver Police Department by July 1, 2020.

We ask you to stand alongside us as we identify, address, and combat racism; actively care for one another and our community; and imagine and work toward a more just and equitable world.

In solidarity,

Faye Caronan, Chair and Associate Professor
Sothary Chea, Program AssistantTR
Dennis Green, Senior Instructor
Rachel Harding, Associate Professor
Donna Martinez, Professor
Katy Mohrman, CTT Assistant Professor