Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified those responsible for organizing the CU Scholar Strike. It was organized by Black, Indigenous and people of color who are current and former University of Colorado Boulder students, faculty and staff. The story has also been updated to add comments from another CU Scholar Strike webinar.
University of Colorado Boulder students and faculty Tuesday and Wednesday joined the national Scholar Strike, an event protesting systemic racism and police violence against people of color.
The nationwide strike is the brainchild of Anthea Butler, an associate professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kevin Gannon, the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and professor of history at Grandview University in Des Moines, Iowa.
The scholar strike encourages faculty, staff and professors to take a break from their normal duties to participate in a teach-in on racism, policing and mass incarceration. At CU Boulder, students, faculty and staff from the College of Arts and Sciences; the School of Education; the College of Media, Communications and Information; student-led groups; United Campus Workers; and many other organizations participated.
The national movement came to fruition after the WNBA and NBA’s strikes in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., and in response to the police allowing Kyle Rittenhouse, who went on to shoot two people, to walk past them while carrying an assault rifle in Kenosha, Wis.
During the strike, educators used class time to discuss racism and discrimination in lieu of course material.
Students, faculty, staff and organizers created a public, 45-minute webinar to discuss issues facing the campus, including an effort to invest in “mental health resources; antiracism training; and scholarships and spaces for BIPOC students and communities at the University of Colorado-Boulder,” and a campus anti-racist creed.
Associate Professor Cheryl Higashida discussed divesting from the campus police force with Olivia Gardner, an alumna and co-founder of Transformative Teach; and Ruth Woldemichael, president of the CU Boulder Black Student Alliance.
While policing is held up as keeping the campus safe, Gardner said, things like access to food and housing are not given the same attention.
“When we look at the budgets and how much is invested in policing and how much is not invested in other resources I mentioned, when we look at those, we can start a conversation about what is deemed as safety on this campus,” Gardner said.
Woldemichael said seeing programs designed to support and invest in underrepresented students defunded is not helping.
“I think it’s a slap in the face when we see a $7 million budget for CUPD, when we hear stories of students of color being targeted and harassed by police officers and when we feel threatened when police officers are heavily weaponized and coming into our classrooms for whatever reason,” Woldemichael said. “That’s not what safety is, that’s not what wellness is for BIPOC students.”
LeAnna Luney, a CU Boulder doctoral candidate and member of Radical BIPOC Womxn and Femmes, spoke about the importance of an anti-racist creed the group developed over the summer.
The creed calls for accountability and responsibility from community members, calls out phrases like tolerating and recognizing differences as perpetuating inequity and commits to racial equity and justice.
“It’s been a talking point for us to delve into what it means, No. 1 to educate ourselves on our own biases and prejudices and No. 2, that this is an agreement that white students can take up and adopt if they really are serious about this whole antiracism thing,” Luney said.
Other anti-racism webinars included “Difficult Dialogues: Unpacking Whiteness,” “Confronting Anti-Black Racism in POC,” “Indigenous & Marginalized Communities,” and “Underlying Conditions: Race, Racism and Health.”
Those who hosted the Unpacking Whiteness webinar self-identified as white.
“Given the height of crisis for anti-Black racism, we thought it was important for higher education to provide space to speak on this,” said Phaedra C. Pezzullo, an associate professor in the College of Media, Communications and Information, who spoke at the “Unpacking Whiteness” webinar. “Those of us that are profiting from white privilege have a responsibility to amplify the voices of our most marginalized students.”
One of the major institutional problems that nonwhite students aimed to address in the strike is the availability of funds for CU Boulder police on one hand and the funds available for those students who are systemically poorer than most of their white counterparts, said Higashida, an associate professor of ethnic American literature.
Webinar participants also discussed funding mental health responders instead of a traditional police department.
“The logic there is that if the University of Colorado is serious about diversity, then it should be rethinking its priorities,” Higashida said.
Bethy Leonardi, an assistant professor in educational foundations, policy, and practice who spoke during one of the webinars said, “I hope the university will take a look at policies and curriculum that perpetuate white supremacy with hope that those of us who are privileged take proactive roles in dismantling these systems.”