HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Improvement of racial diversity and inclusion of minority students will always be a point of emphasis at the University of Colorado.
However, athletic director Rick George said he feels good about the culture that has been developed in CU athletics.
"I feel strongly about the culture that we've created within the athletic department, and I think our student-athletes embrace that culture, and our staff does," George said.
During a meeting with the board of regents July 14 in Silverthorne, chancellor Phil DiStefano painted a picture of black athletes feeling underappreciated at CU.
DiStefano raised a lot of eyebrows when telling regents a story of being told by a staff member that black football players and men's basketball players felt "Everything they do pays for the young white female playing tennis or on the golf team or track and field. He said they talk about being part of 'the plantation,' that their sweat and tears are really for other people, not for them."
The next day, George and senior football player Chidobe Awuzie said that comment does not accurately portray the climate at CU today.
George was in Los Angeles on a fundraising trip, while Awuzie and others associated with CU athletics were in Hollywood for Pac-12 football media days. Buffzone.com talked to several people associated with CU, including Awuzie and a former player, and they all said they had never heard anyone refer to CU or any facilities at CU as a "plantation."
"I had not heard that before," said George, "and immediately when I heard that, I talked to my staff and talked to our team and talked to the staff member that those comments came from. These were comments that were made by a couple of players three or more years ago."
Awuzie, who is black, said he was surprised to hear that comment.
"I've never heard it until it was brought to my attention," he said. "I hang out with all the black people on the team and white people on the team and I've never, ever heard that."
DiStefano's comments to regents came during a discussion about diversity and inclusion. While the "plantation" comment caught many off guard, DiStefano's message was worthwhile, given a recent survey of undergraduate students that showed only 26 percent of black students felt valued on the CU campus.
"We're always going to address issues openly and the chancellor addressed those openly and candidly and I respect that," George said. "(The 'plantation' comment) was more of something that happened in our past, but you've got to understand the past to change the future."
George said he's aware of the survey, and that diversity is a high priority in the athletic department. For months, CU has been working on a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion and hopes to be completed with that plan in the next month.
"We talk to our student-athletes about that all the time," George said. "We engage in conversation about those subjects because we do want to make sure that all of our students and student-athletes have a great experience."
Going into his fourth year at CU, Awuzie said that while CU is not a highly diverse campus, he has had a great experience.
"It's just a different culture that you get used to," he said. "It's not that there's racism or anything. We know (Boulder) is predominantly a white town, and they've accepted us with open arms. We have fun there; we have a lot of friends of different colors. It's a very diversity-inclusive place, so I really like it there."