By Published: Nov. 10, 2020

Ruth Woldemichael

When I got asked to write for the Coloradan, I had too many ideas. 

I could write about my journey to activism, my work on the CU Boulder Black Student Alliance (BSA), advocating for anti-racism training tied to graduation requirements, the Black Lives Matter movement or my two years at CU as a Black woman, organizer and student.

And I realized — I have too much to write about. 

I am doing heavy, taxing, administrative work as a student. I am sacrificing my mental and physical health, my time and my academics — without pay — to play a game of chess, mixed with Ring Around the Rosie, in an attempt to initiate change at CU.

We talk about white privilege, but I don’t think white students understand the weight Black students carry. 

Being a Black woman is not the burden I am referring to. I love my Black skin, my 3c-4a curls, and the beautiful Black community… but I cannot escape the weight of this anti-Black campus. 

I am a Black woman, ​fighting​ to survive and thrive on this campus — while others freely enjoy the college experience.  

My white counterparts will never feel the visceral reaction my Black soul feels when the cops drive up behind me, walk into the room or are parked by a street I have to cross. They will never be turned away from a party or be called racial slurs. They’ll never experience the sly comments about melanated skin tones and kinky curls. They’ll never feel the threat of constant blackface on their social media screens, amongst the Black death and Black loss. They’ll never know the feeling of underrepresentation or misrepresentation. They comfortably enjoy college with their tens of thousands of white peers and overwhelming numbers of white professors and white therapists. 

I am a Black woman, ​fighting​ to survive and thrive on this campus — while others freely enjoy the college experience.  

I am the president of the BSA. I am a student advocate. Some call me a racial justice activist, a leader and a mentor. I’m a writer, a poet and a storyteller. 

Regardless of those labels — I am a Black student. I’m fighting to get paid for my labor, fighting to be seen and heard, fighting to learn in a safe space for my mind and body, fighting to graduate and be alive. We often forget this labor — this fight — kills. It kills minds and souls, too. So, I am fighting to stay afloat. I’m dreaming of a time when this does not have to be the next generation’s fight.

Aren’t you tired of hearing the same song, for generations, sitting on repeat? The song about students screaming for change, getting some ambiguous response to prevent bad press, only for the following classes to experience the same traumas?

The truth is, CU Boulder has failed to protect and serve their Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. They failed in the ’70s when Black student leaders demanded the university condemn racist acts and dismantle institutionalized practices, and when Chicanx activists, Los Seis de Boulder, were killed after protesting against administrative repression and discrimination here at CU. They failed in 2015 when Black student leaders were ​so​ close to creating a multicultural space for students. 

In 2019, Black student leaders researched and proposed anti-racism policies and campus leadership did nothing. They failed us again in 2020 when thousands of community members signed petitions asking for condemnation of racist acts, expulsion or removal of community members encouraging hate speech, reallocation of police budgets towards mental health, a plan to diversify the student and faculty populations and for anti-racism training tied to graduation requirements. CU continues to fail us.

When can I just be a student and focus on my studies without this extra labor that feels like a full-time job? When can we trust university leaders to act? When will CU Boulder be a “welcoming and inclusive environment,” (as written on the ODECE website) that doesn’t placate or overwork Black and Brown students? 

Real change will not exist on this campus until BIPOC students are able to breathe, survive and thrive at CU without this fight; the fight to change the institution known to fail their people; the fight to exist; the fight to stop this tired song. We’re tired of fighting.

Ruth Woldemichael (IntlAf’22) is a first-generation student living in Denver and president of the CU Boulder BSA. In this role, she works with university officials, faculty, staff and students concerning campus policing, mental health, representation, retention, recruitment and housing as it pertains to Black and Brown communities on campus. She, with fellow student organizers, also engages with state representatives, the media and elected officials about campus climate.

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Photos courtesy Ruth Woldemichael