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  • Students join President Foster's task force for turning the corner on racism

    Students join President Foster's task force for turning the corner on racism.

  • Turning the Corner on Racism

    Turning the Corner on Racism.

Presidential task force plans for fall launch of initiatives

A team of students, faculty, staff and community members appointed by President Tim Foster to lead Colorado Mesa University’s efforts to “Turn the Corner on Racism” has made important progress in the first month since its formation.

“We have engaged in deep, heartfelt and at times very difficult conversations,” said President Foster, referring to some of the groups' first meetings as students and staff of color expressed their experiences at CMU and in Grand Junction.

Aaron Howard, a senior majoring in business finance and a certificate in real estate, is among the members of the committee that are both advising CMU leadership and working with administration, faculty members and community members like GJPD Chief Doug Shoemaker to create lasting change and, more immediately, programming for this fall.

“The Turning the Corner committee is keeping hard topic conversations afloat to make sure we have absolute change. We are making hard controversial decisions for the betterment of Colorado Mesa University. We are relentlessly taking on the issue of racism and social injustice,” said Howard.

One initiative already underway is an effort to amplify the voices and perspectives of students of color via an adaptation of the CMU Civic Forum's Open Studio project. Launched in March as a response to the first stay-at-home orders of the coronavirus pandemic, Open Studio provided a platform for the campus to explore shared humanity through recorded messages and performances. The adaptation — named "Let's Talk About It" — will invite students, faculty, staff and community members to engage in thought-provoking dialogue and artistic expression on racism and/or celebration of black culture in America.

"It will take many forms," said Ky Oday, coordinator of student diversity in the Student Services Office and chair of the Turning the Corner on Racism committee. "We will have people share personal stories; others may recite excerpts from famous speeches or provide historical context regarding systemic racism; faculty members will discuss efforts they're employing in the classroom and how they're adapting their curriculum — just to name a few," he added.

The committee is currently in pre-production on the project with the Marketing and Communications Office and the Mass Communications program.

Tim Casey, PhD, professor of political science, and Kiana Peoples, PhD, professor of social work, serve on the committee and are assisting with engaging faculty to help move campus, the community and the nation forward.

"We will be engaging faculty throughout the coming year in a series of formal and informal surveys to determine the level of engagement they have on issues of diversity, inclusion and other matters that have been raised in recent months by people in America who are taking action to fight racism and injustice," said Casey.

Casey and Peoples will start this fall with an informal survey to get faculty thinking about how the issues raised by recent calls for reform might impact their own curriculum and approach to their courses and programs.

"The survey will identify ways they are already addressing these issues that can be shared as models for others moving forward. Later, we will be developing a tool to help faculty assess their programs and individual course curriculum regarding issues of diversity and inclusion. We plan to work on including a section on diversity and inclusion into all future program reviews," added Casey.

Students Aaron Reed and Mae Mamo are assisting on the president's task force, leading efforts by the Cultural Inclusion Council and planning a variety of projects for the fall. Plans are underway for two socially distanced BBQs for incoming and returning African American students as well as a dialogue between Black Student Alliance members and the Grand Junction Police Department.

Reed, director of the student-led Cultural Inclusion Council noted, "I believe that our community leaders are working diligently to improve the relationship of students and the GJPD. I am also certain that the Cultural Inclusion Council will stand with our members and students to ensure the safety for one another."

Mamo, coordinator of the Black Student Alliance, added, "Although it's been a difficult summer, I've seen how the administration of CMU has stepped up to protect its BIPOC. Now more than ever, community is necessary and the only way to do so is by actively participating and engaging with others. I encourage black students on campus to join the BSA this coming year and begin the process of building a lasting community on campus where every black student feels safe."

The Turning the Corner committee is also working to bring a speaker to campus this fall; exploring offering a course on American slavery; evaluating additional counseling staff for the student wellness center; exploring a book or text that the entire campus can read and discuss; hosting a series of meetings to ask uncomfortable questions and have the conversations needed to advance the mission; and evaluating changes to the police academy and criminal justice curriculum.

"We’re going to be very intentional with our efforts," said Liz Howell, acting vice president for student services. "Just as we're addressing the threat of COVID-19 we're going to address the threat of unrepentant racism and intolerance of all types," she added.