Published: Feb. 18, 2021

Now is the time to stop and reflect. To ask ourselves, what does it mean to recognize Black History Month? We should all, of course, pause daily, regardless of the month, to ask what it means that the U.S. needs such a month? How have so many of us lived our lives with so little attention to the histories and presence of African Americans? As a member of the CMCI community, I hope you will pause with us today, for the rest of the month and in the future to specifically consider the significance Black history has in higher education. 

Just one of the many questions we, the CMCI community, should ask is, what does it mean that in 2021, African American students comprise just 2.2% of CMCI’s student population and only 2.7% of the university’s total student body? While that campus number is up a full percentage point since 2000 and is now at its highest recorded number to date, only 942 students out of the 34,975 enrolled students on campus today identify as African American. We could and should recognize the growth that has occurred in the last 20 years––and we must also ask how we, as a college and a campus, are failing at a critical part of our mission? There is no denying that both CMCI and CU Boulder must not only continue, but dramatically improve in our recruitment of African American students.

Just as we cannot mark Black History Month without naming these needs, we also must name the intellectual, social, political and cultural contributions of Black students, faculty, staff and alumni––all of whom play a key role in advancing our university’s strategic imperatives to shape tomorrow’s leaders, be the top university for innovation and positively impact humanity. In CMCI, Black scholars, activists and educators are working to rethink education in ways that empower Black youth, reshape disciplinary fields in equitable and inclusive ways, and produce stories that reframe and broaden representations of Black identities. 

In her 2018 book, Remembering Lucile, Media Studies Associate Professor Polly Bugros McLean illuminated the history and career of Lucile Berkeley Buchanan, the first African American woman to graduate from CU Boulder. Last week, the regents unanimously approved renaming the education building the Lucile Berkeley Buchanan Building, a fitting tribute for a woman who dedicated her life to the courageous task of educating others during the time of Jim Crow laws. Barred by the university from participation in her graduation ceremony, Berkeley Buchanan demonstrated the kind of radical insistence on presence that defines what it means to celebrate Black History Month.   

Participation in Black History Month must also turn on local and national recognition of the historical and contemporary radical presence of African Americans, whether manifest in the everyday acts of the 942 African American students at Boulder today who insist, as did Berkeley Buchanan, that they belong on our campus, or in more dramatic public moments—the poetic brilliance, for instance, of youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman.  

In his 1894 speech given at the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth, Frederick Douglass, whose chosen birthday was 203 years ago this month, made clear the status of education to racial equity: “To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature.” Those of us who are neither Black nor African American cannot forget these words nor ignore the ways in which we are implicated. Our participation in Black History Month begins with our sustained commitment to educating ourselves––learning Black histories and insisting that Black history be redefined as U.S. history––but does not end there. 

Our ongoing work lies in asking ourselves and each other how we might stand in solidarity with Black and African American communities, finding our own paths toward the kinds of radical presence that will create an inclusive college and campus climate comprised of thousands of African American students, staff and faculty. 

We, among CMCI’s leadership, have charged ourselves with this critical work, knowing that meaningful change requires time, commitment and persistence. This summer, we will launch a high school pipeline program aimed at increasing access to a CMCI education for Colorado’s African American youth. In addition, we are assessing college practices to ensure that we identify––and then dismantle––barriers as we are also putting in place regular conversations among ourselves around race, racism and anti-racism. 

On behalf of the CMCI leadership, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. 

Lisa Flores, PhD
Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Co-Chair, CU Boulder IDEA Council