Dear CU Denver Faculty, Staff and Students,
I write to you with a heavy heart to describe a recent incident in which a Teaching Assistant displayed an inappropriate and offensive image in a PowerPoint presentation in a CU Denver anthropology course. The image – intended to describe the evolutionary process – included pictures of different kinds of apes along with a photo of an African American woman. There is no justification for including depictions that draw upon a reprehensible portrayal of African Americans. We must respect the dignity of all members of our community and not allow such actions to stand unchallenged.
I am deeply saddened, troubled, and frankly horrified that such an egregious act would take place in one of our classes. While we cannot undo what happened, what we can and will do is determine, to the extent possible, the origin of this image. In our initial investigation, we have not been able to pinpoint the source. If the person who created the image is still part of our community, I will hold that person accountable. Also, we will use this moment to repudiate racism, underscore our commitment to equality, and resolve to align our actions with the values of respect and inclusion that are at the core of what defines CU Denver.
The Teaching Assistant and faculty member were not responsible for incorporating the offensive image into the teaching materials. They have apologized to the students in the class. Provost Nairn, Dean Jansma and I met with the students earlier today to express our regret, listen to their concerns, and offer our support. The Office of Equity has reached out to the students who have been impacted. Our campus leadership has been meeting to discuss how we ensure that such an incident is not repeated. As we move forward, we will include deans; department chairs; and faculty, staff and student leaders in those discussions. We begin with a non-negotiable starting point: CU Denver will not tolerate or excuse racism or other prejudices.
Of the attributes that comprise who CU Denver is and what we stand for, our diversity and commitment to advancing social justice and inclusion are at the top of the list. From my interactions with many of you and what I observe on a daily basis, I have no doubt that our campus community embraces and embodies those values. This incident, however, underscores that our work is not – and will never be – complete. Our values must be more than a symbolic commitment. We must take them into our classrooms and across the campus and make them part of our lives.
As we prepare for a new academic year, we must reflect on our beliefs, actions, and behaviors. It is at that level that true progress begins. I ask you to join me in coming together to insist that no individual, regardless of race, gender identity, orientation, culture, religion, heritage, or other identity, be intentionally or unintentionally made to feel unwelcome or disrespected at CU Denver. And, if any of us is unwilling or unable to join our efforts to create and honor a diverse and inclusive academic environment, you’re in the wrong place.
I look forward to continuing our important work when we are all back on campus in August. Until then, I wish you and your loved ones well.