TRENDS Podcast: Diversity, Inclusion & Equity

The TRENDS podcast is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Boulder County and KGNU. It dives deep into the community’s most pressing issues and explores the changes happening throughout Boulder County through the experiences of community members, especially those often rendered invisible by commercial media, to shed light on community challenges, solutions, and pathways forward for the county and the country.

Listen to the Diversity, Inclusion & Equity TRENDS podcast episode below:

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Boulder County has a reputation of being a leader in progressive values, but not everyone feels welcome here.

A survey conducted by the Community Foundation of Boulder County shows that residents here feel we are least open to minorities, immigrants and refugees compared to other groups.  And very often, members of those groups feel very unwelcome.

In March 2019 Zayd Atkinson, an African American yoga student at Boulder’s Naropa University was confronted by several police officers, some with weapons drawn, while he was picking up trash in his front yard. Atkinson said that he wasn’t totally shocked that he’d been initially confronted by the police, but he was shocked and how much the situation escalated.

“I’ve been here since the beginning of fall, but I was familiar with the area, so I wasn’t surprised, I was surprised when he pulled out his gun,” said Atkinson.

The gun was pulled by a Boulder police officer who stopped his vehicle to question Atkinson, who was using a trash grabber to pick up garbage from his lawn near Folsom and Arapahoe. He said he feared for his life.

Boulder Police body camera image of Zayd Atkinson surrounded by armed police

“There was a moment, especially when he pulled out the pistol,” said Atkinson. “I thought he was going to shoot me, I wasn’t expecting that. I had my headphones in and he came out of my blindside, and then I realized he was an officer of the law and I wanted to respect that, but he wanted to detain me and that’s when I walked away and continued doing what I was doing and things escalated.”

The incident prompted a huge community response with rallies in support of Atkinson. Boulder City Council convened community conversations on racism. A task force was created to explore forming a community police oversight board. The incident prompted the community to reflect on what it means to promote values of diversity while having many people of color reporting feeling unwelcome.

Ramon Gabrieloff-Parish, who teaches in the Environmental Studies program at CU remembers vividly what happened to Zayd Atkinson.

“if you’ve watched that tape at the bare minimum, the police escalated that situation beyond what it needed to be escalated, you know, like beyond what it was needed. And they created a situation that’s almost, it was almost deadly watching it.”

Gabrieloff-Parish with the Naopra Diversity Seminar he teaches

Gabrieloff-Parish also teaches the Diversity Seminar, part of the core curriculum at Naropa.

“We were studying racial profiling and policing. And I was like, ‘well folks,  if you didn’t know why we were studying this, I think, you know now. Like how much harder can the lesson come than having one of our students?”

Gabriellof Parish says that we as a society need to confront racism head on.

“If we can look race in the eye, I think that we can look gender in the eye. I think we can look sexuality in the eye. I think we can look class in the eye, but if we can’t look race in the eye… we’re not really going to be able to hold the gaze and really figure out what is up and how to undo and transform the other ones.”

Kayik Wildcat grew up in Arizona and now lives in Boulder. He is a senior at Fairview Highschool and is with AIYLI, the American IndianYouth Leadership Institute. Kayik says that is always aware of the lack of diversity living in Boulder County.

“… high school is probably 90% white, I’m pretty sure I’m the only native there. (There is) probably like less than 30 black kids, and then very little of everybody else, you know, but it’s all white and there’s not much to it.”

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Kayik says any discussion on diversity must include Native Americans and an acknowledgment that we are on stolen land.

“Land acknowledgments are the acknowledgment of the indigenous people of whose land these belong to. And now that’s right there.”

Jason Romero teaches Chicano history and work on the Boulder County Latino History Project

Recognizing the history of all people in this community is a crucial part of any conversation around diversity and it must be taught to children. Jason Romero, graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder and now teaches Chicano history at a high school in Denver. He is committed to preserving the history of Latinos in the area through the Boulder County Latino History Project.

“the most important thing to me is to understand where we are, to know the history of the land that we live on, to understand the communities that have already existed here. You know, here in Boulder it’s important to acknowledge and recognize the Cheyenne and Arapaho people who historically have been the caretakers of this land. It’s important to understand the communities and the history of the places that we live in because they haven’t always been what they are today.”

“When we think of Boulder, we think of a very liberal white paradise and it’s not always been that. And it got that way as a result of violence,” says Romero.

We must have all voices part of the conversation if we want to be not just diverse but inclusive. Richard Garcia serves on the Boulder Valley School District School Board. He first ran for the seat to ensure that Latino voices were included and heard.

Garcia says diversity is a word that is often used in policy discussions, but not always fully understood.

“When I hear the word diversity, that means numbers of people sitting at the table or numbers of people in the school district. So for example, we have 5,000 Latino students in the Boulder Valley School District. So we do have a diverse student population? Now, does that mean that they’re included in terms of inclusion? Are they included in student clubs? Are they included in the sports? …Are they encouraged to participate? Are there fees associated with all of that?”

While education opens many doors to communities who have traditionally been excluded, it can also be difficult to be a person of color in higher-level education and on campuses that are predominantly white.

Ana Damaris Colon Quinones (2nd from the right) at the “Frames: An analysis of colorblind racism in architecture” exhibit she helped organize at CU Boulder

Ana Damaris Colon Quinones is a student at CU Boulder. She is a first-generation college student who is studying architecture and social justice. She has been involved in a project about Racism in Architecture. She says she has experienced how certain spaces can feel exclusive.

“So with the library, I don’t really like to go there. I don’t know. I think it’s just like the lack of diversity there because if you go somewhere like the UMC there’s a lot more diversity, it’s a place where I personally feel more comfortable in.”

CU has an Office of Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement whose goal is to create inclusive and equitable educational opportunities for all students. It will be hosting its annual diversity summit this spring. But despite efforts by the college, some students and faculty members feel that people of color are still excluded.

Recently, About 50 students and community members rallied on the CU Boulder campus in support of Dr. Lupita Montoya who says she was denied tenure in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering on the basis of bias. She was the first Latina on a tenure track for the college of engineering. The University told KGNU that Dr. Montoya’s case was reviewed appropriately. She is now considering legal action. Her situation has many students upset about what they see as discrimination.

Mateo Manuel Vela of UMAS y Mexa speaks about the importance of diversity at a rally in support of Dr. Lupita Montoya

Alana Adams a student in CU’s ethnic studies department attended the rally in support of Dr. Montoya.

“I think kind of what we’re experiencing here is very much symptomatic for People of Color in general, but for Women of Color we have to be twice as good to get even just the same baseline level of kind of acknowledgment even or consideration. And so my family is actually indigenous to Northeastern Mexico. That’s where we’re from. So kind of that dual identity has really informed a lot of the way that I move through the spaces here and that I walk in through multiple communities, and we all struggle with the same issues of representation on campus as well as just being able to find community.”

People of color not feeling welcome in all places in Boulder County is a common theme. Nikhil Mankekar is a Boulderite and the Chair of the City of Boulder Human Relations Commission. He is the first Indian and Sikh American to be appointed to any city commission in Boulder.

“One of the difficult things for People of Color who live in Boulder is walking into most spaces. You will be the minority, you will not be in the majority. And it isn’t just about that. It’s about all of the history and the baggage of the systems that come with that. And if there’s discomfort with people walking into those spaces, as people often tell me, it’s feeling these kinds of longstanding systems of systemic oppression.”

It is something that Shiquita Yarbrough is also aware of. She is the community engagement equity manager for the YWCA of Boulder County. She co-created a group, Families of Color, because of the experiences of her children.

“There were some issues with the youth in how they were being called names in schools,” says Yarbrough.

The YWCA gives support and provides resources to families in the county.

“I think that gives people a little breathing room where they can exhale and say, ‘wow, I’m not alone. Someone here understands what I’m going through.’”

There are many conversations about diversity and inclusion happening in Boulder County. Conversations are happening about the impacts of structural racism and implicit bias. The challenge is now to nurture those conversations and move into action to create a community that is inclusive for all.

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