Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Please accept my congratulations on joining us as president of my alma mater, the University of Colorado. There is much to be accomplished; I wish you well.

However, I confess that I have serious concerns about the direction that this university has taken in regards to the recruitment and retention of African American students, and so I am reaching out to you, as I previously have done with the Board of Regents, about the present situation. 

With a current enrollment of 33,000 students on the Boulder Campus (up from 20,000 when I was a student), it is clear that CU has established itself as a presence on the national stage. But of that number, only one percent is African American, accounting for roughly the same number of Black students that attended CU in the 1970s. Meanwhile, CU’s football team is 70 percent Black, and the basketball team 60 percent Black.

As an attendee at the November 2018 CU Diversity Summit in Boulder, I spoke with an administrator in Strategic Relations, who actually told me that several majority minority high schools around the country have asked that CU not visit/recruit their students who, while qualified, lack the financial resources needed to enroll at Boulder. She then asked me if I could identify non-White students who are both academically and financially ready for CU. 

I found that statement preposterous and insulting. However, in response, I offered, in writing, to identify “suitable schools/high school students” per the Admissions Office’s “Do Not Visit” list. No one has contacted me to follow up, although I have means to identify both schools and students whose academic profiles are competitive with the typical CU student. Predictably, there has been no acknowledgement of the existence of a “Do Not Visit” list.

African American enrollment at CU declined from roughly 700 students some 40 years ago to as few as 300 in the 1990s and back to 1970’s numbers on a campus with an otherwise steadily growing general population. So while the overall population increased, the number of Black students saw a net decline. That is not progress. 

An April 4, 2018 New York Times article, “Colleges Recruit at Richer, Whiter High Schools,” shed light on the gap between what has been said and what has been done when it comes to college recruiting. UCLA’s Ozan Jaquette, and the University of Arizona’s Karina Salazar debunked the justifications that colleges present about whom they recruit and why.

The link to their study can be found here: http://emraresearch.org 

What Jaquette and Salazar found was that colleges like CU sought students from high schools in more affluent and White neighborhoods while ignoring talented students in less affluent, less White areas. They specifically cited CU’s recruiting practices as an example. 

Case-in-point: CU representatives recruited students from Boston’s Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, (88 percent White, about 150 students with proficient math scores, according to the U.S. Department of Education). But CU passed over nearby Brockton High School (21 percent white, about 620 students meeting those same math standards). Other examples abound.

The numbers are not any better within the state, where Black and Brown students are typically routed to the CU’s Denver Campus, while wealthier White students are directed to and enrolled in Boulder.

President George Norlin once challenged our university to seek out the talented regardless of where they came from, who their parents were, or how much they could spend. He rejected those who urged discrimination, putting CU’s very existence on the line. That is the kind of moral courage that we need today. He believed that we could be better. So, too, do I. We must do better and that is undergirded by honoring the stated mission of the university.

On May 2, 1977, a group of about two dozen African American, Latino, Native American, Asian, and White CU students carried out a 17-hour takeover of the Hellems Arts and Sciences Building in response to reduced nonwhite enrollment. Back then, faculty members openly stated that dark faces cheapened the Colorado degree.

Those young people did not go to college to protest or occupy buildings. They came to study. They came to earn degrees and become contributing citizens. Instead, they were greeted with resistance, as demonstrated by the hostile emotional climate and their decreasing numbers. The same circumstances which generated that protest appear to be true today.

No student should ever be put in that position again.

I look forward to the possibility of future conversations and hearing more on your plans to create an expanded, inclusive student body.


James Michael Brodie

Editor’s note: James Michael Brodie, a University of Colorado graduate in English, is a Baltimore-based writer, journalist, and author. His books include Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American InnovatorsandSweet Words So Brave: The Story of African American Literature. His current in-the works project is tentatively titled The CU Black and Gold Project.