To: University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Please accept my congratulations on joining us as president of my alma mater, the University of Colorado. There is much to be accomplished; I wish you well.

However, I confess that I have serious concerns about the direction that this university has taken in regards to the recruitment and retention of African American students, and so I am reaching out to you, as I previously have done with the Board of Regents, about the present situation.

With a current enrollment of 33,000 students on the Boulder Campus (up from 20,000 when I was a student), it is clear that CU has established itself as a presence on the national stage. But of that number, only one percent is African American, accounting for roughly the same number of Black students that attended CU in the 1970s. Meanwhile, CU’s football team is 70 percent Black, and the basketball team 60 percent Black.

As an attendee at the November 2018 CU Diversity Summit in Boulder, I spoke with an administrator in Strategic Relations, who actually told me that several majority minority high schools around the country have asked that CU not visit/recruit their students who, while qualified, lack the financial resources needed to enroll at Boulder. She then asked me if I could identify nonWhite students who are both academically and financially ready for CU.

I found that statement preposterous and insulting. However, in response, I offered, in writing, to identify “suitable schools/high school students” per the Admissions Office’s “Do Not Visit” list. No one has contacted me to follow up, although I have means to identify both schools and students whose academic profiles are competitive with the typical CU student. Predictably, there has been no acknowledgement of the existence of a “Do Not Visit” list.

African American enrollment at CU declined from roughly 700 students some 40 years ago to as few as 300 in the 1990s, and back to 1970’s numbers on a campus with an otherwise steadily growing general population. So while the overall population increased, the number of Black students saw a net decline. That is not progress.

An April 4, 2018 New York Times article, “Colleges Recruit at Richer, Whiter High Schools,” shed light on the gap between what has been said and what has been done when it comes to college recruiting. UCLA’s Ozan Jaquette, and the University of Arizona’s Karina Salazar debunked the justifications that colleges present about whom they recruit and why.

The link to their study can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/04/13/opinion/college-recruitment-rich-white.html

What Jaquette and Salazar found was that colleges like CU sought students from high schools in more affluent and White neighborhoods while ignoring talented students in less affluent, less White areas. They specifically cited CU’s recruiting practices as an example.

Case-in-point: CU representatives recruited students from Boston’s Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, (88 percent White, about 150 students with proficient math scores, according to the U.S. Department of Education). But CU passed over nearby Brockton High School (21 percent white, about 620 students meeting those same math standards). Other examples abound.

The numbers are not any better within the state, where Black and Brown students are typically routed to the CU’s Denver Campus, while wealthier White students are directed to and enrolled in Boulder.

President George Norlin once challenged our university to seek out the talented regardless of where they came from, who their parents were, or how much they could spend. He rejected those who urged discrimination, putting CU’s very existence on the line. That is the kind of moral courage that we need today. He believed that we could be better. So, too, do I. We must do better and that is undergirded by honoring the stated mission of the university.

On May 2, 1977, a group of about two dozen African American, Latino, Native American, Asian, and White CU students carried out a 17-hour takeover of the Hellems Arts and Sciences Building in response to reduced nonWhite enrollment. Back then, faculty members openly stated that dark faces cheapened the Colorado degree.

Those young people did not go to college to protest or occupy buildings. They came to study. They came to earn degrees and become contributing citizens. Instead, they were greeted with resistance, as demonstrated by the hostile emotional climate and their decreasing numbers. The same circumstances which generated that protest appear to be true today.

No student should ever be put in that position again.

I look forward to the possibility of future conversations and hearing more on your plans to create an expanded, inclusive student body.

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kesmarn
Admin

Michael, it’s so good to see you here. A wonderful, powerful letter you’ve written, and I hope it’s taken very seriously by the new administration at CU. The fact that it comes from a concerned alumnus should add weight to it as well.

Please feel free to decline to answer, but I’m wondering how your undergrad experience at CU was. Do you feel that Black students who are there now are having a better or worse experience than you did in your own years there?

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AdLib
Admin

I have to say, I don’t have a lot of experience in the area but it is hard to believe that any high school would aggressively reach out to a college to insist that they not recruit their students. What would be the logic?

Yes, the issue of tuition could be a big hill to climb especially for students in poor areas but there are a variety of grants, loans and tuition adjustments by colleges that can all make the situation work…if they want it to.

Of course, the admin at a university would be happiest having affluent (white) students whose parents could more easily pay full tuition but the best colleges out there are actively working to have a student body that is diverse because they’ve recognized that’s the environment that provides for a better education and leads to greater success for their students in the real world.

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Dajuan Candle
Member

An interesting read. It made me recall a young lady I met in the early 90’s, she was black, from Louisiana, had a singing voice that rivaled Whitney Houston’s (no joke), and had attended college in Colorado on a voice scholarship, I think it might have been CU. I sometimes wonder what happen to her, to T.J., the young lady who could sing so good she could make the listener cry.

Surly. Your alma mater needs to do better. But they are not alone. Many Americans schools are caught up with the perceptions of quality that come with appearance. Many people still wrongly associate quality with white, when it is nothing more than privilege than it is anything else, and low quality with black even though it has mostly to do with financial hardships that the privileged burdened us with.

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Amalek Revival
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Amalek Revival

Friends don’t let friends go to CU.

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escribacat
Member

I was born and raised in Boulder. I left when I was 18 then went back for a time in my 30s, then left again. What you describe is not just CU, it is Boulder, which is the whitest, most homogenous place I’ve ever been. It’s my hometown and it’s a beautiful place and it is uber-liberal, but I find it insufferable, even suffocating. I remember reading an article once in a local paper there, where the white writer was interviewing a Black student. The article was along the lines of “Gosh, what’s it like to be Black?” Just drive for 15 minutes to Denver and you’re in a different world.

I’m obviously prejudiced about it for my own personal reasons, but I’ve always found the culture at CU to be primarily rich white fraternities and sororities, populated by rich white jerks who chose CU because they like to ski. I grew up feeling menaced by those “frat boys,” and the accompanying misogyny. Brett Kavanaugh looks very familiar to me. He is exactly like the classic CU frat boy, privileged and arrogant and unfamiliar with consequences.

I have to wonder if maybe CU has one or more donors who are pushing that selection process. I know they have been under fire for being “too liberal,” partly because of the Ward Churchill fiasco some years ago. My own nephew, who is very conservative, was hired by CU to teach conservative philosophy (Plato) to students in the engineering department. They hired him specifically because he is conservative.

Maybe you should send your letter to the Daily Camera?

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kesmarn
Admin

Good to see you, e’cat! Your thoughts bring to mind something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I wouldn’t be surprised if 90% of the American population had already figured this out, but it has struck me more forcefully recently: namely that virtually every racist male I’ve encountered (or even read about) is also a misogynist. Of course, the reasons those two prejudices would go together are obvious. But it serves as a very accurate early warning signal: when you see the one, you’ll inevitably see the other. Forgive me if it seems I’m stating the obvious here, but I’ve been so swamped by family obligations of late, that my time to ponder news issues and draw conclusions is pretty limited! Hope all’s well with you.

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Rashaad Hadee
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Rashaad Hadee

Unfortunately, the so-called education system in America especially predominantly white institutions have had problems with recruiting talented African-Americans. There a several factors that play in this situation including, but not limited to systemic racism.

The current system of education can be seen as indoctrination due to standardized testing, which can be culturally bias. Generally, math is universal. Schools are still considered separate and unequal due to funding. Public schools are generally funded by property taxes. Generally, African-American home ownership is at a significantly lower rate.

The University of Colorado as well as all colleges and universities in the country to develop relationships with high schools to ensure those that choose college can make a successful transition from high to college regardless of their color or the area their high school is located.

*Excuse any grammatical or spelling errors.

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Opie Cat
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Opie Cat

There is no doubt that under the current admin we are going backwards. I doubt but hope your letter makes an impact.

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