BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – A temporary art installation on the University of Colorado Boulder campus aims to point out the experiences and needs of BIPOC students. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
The two students behind the art installation say CU should divest in the campus police department and use the funds to support the education, well being and safety of students of color.
What Gwendalynn Roebke and Alejandra Abad now call “artivism” is the combination of both students’ skills and passions. While Roebke came up with the idea more than a year ago, it became reality when Abad, a graduate student studying interdisciplinary media art practices, got involved.
“Gwendalynn had a vision and I was the person with the skills, so I said, ‘Hey we can do this!’” Abad said.
The installation, now located outside Norlin Library, includes 43 black, cardboard silhouettes, placed on different chairs and benches to occupy space. According to Roebke and Abad, the cutouts serve to represent the absence of BIPOC students on the Boulder campus.
“When we’re saying missing, we’re saying that this campus is lacking in racial equity and racial justice, because it has no efforts to make sure that black and brown people succeed, except for those that have been deemed acceptable by the academy,” Roebke said.
To make that point, some silhouettes have writing that shows disparities in graduation and retention rates for students of color. Others share anonymous stories of abuse and discrimination experienced by BIPOC students.
One anonymous story described a professor discriminating against black student and discrediting their work. Another anonymous black student described getting little help from the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance after they were called a racial slur by their roommate multiple times.
“This is definitely the norm and these are people who are willing to share, but imagine the people who aren’t willing to share,” Roebke said.
In a statement to CBS4, a university spokesperson said, “We agree with the students as they are bringing awareness to the issue of what CU Boulder loses when Black, Indigenous and other students of Color do not enroll or complete their degrees at CU Boulder due to racism, discrimination or other causes.” The spokesperson also pointed out Chancellor Phil DiStefano’s recent commitment to “transform the experience of students, faculty and staff of color through eight immediate actions for change.”
According to a university webpage dedicated to the topic, the upcoming actions include updating hiring and student recruitment practices, as well as developing an anti-racism module for first-year students.
Roebke and Abad want to see a more drastic solution, hence the cutouts that read “divest to invest in CU BIPOC.” The two students, along with the group diversifyCUnow, have demanded the university divest funds from the University of Colorado Police Department and reinvest in BIPOC-focused initiatives. Flyers with more information on the demand and organization are available near each silhouette.
“We’ve very clearly laid out in this demonstration, we’re leaving, we’re missing, and here’s the things you can do to help us,” Roebke said. “You can give us things like mental health access, not only in police responses, but for ourselves. You can give us things like increased anti-racism training, not made by white people, but made by us.”
The installation will stay up through Friday afternoon.