As diversity and race relations have come to the forefront of the nation’s attention, community members are looking at ways to examine what is often systemic and unconscious racism in the Gunnison Valley. Western is contributing to that conversation, with English professor and Committee Chair of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Internationalization committee Alina Luna offering insight during a recent community forum on what racism is and what actions are being taken to bring inclusion to the valley.
On Sunday, Nov. 29, the Crested Butte Black Lives Matter Community Coalition hosted a public event online called “Uncomfortable Conversations” (a series first organized in 2018 by Western Multicultural Center director Sally Romero and former Program Coordinator Elizabeth Cobbins). The group’s goal was to offer a safe and informative space for people to ask questions about racism and Black Lives Matter, among other related topics.
A Renewed Focus
The forum explored what racism is—even in its subtlest of forms, how more diversity can be incorporated into the hiring process locally, and why a renewed focus has been put upon engaging the Black community in a meaningful way. One of the questions fielded during the one-hour event was why the Black Lives Matter movement is important in this day and time.
“I think this is a challenging and difficult issue, and people sometimes mistake this calling of attention to a specific issue to mean other issues don’t matter,” Luna said. “I think the go-to is that once you assert that Black Lives Matter, it’s mutually exclusive.”
Luna explained to the community that when attention is called to an issue it’s because it’s not being realized or taken seriously. She said Black Lives Matter doesn’t negate the importance of “Blue Lives Matter”—referring to a counter movement emphasizing the importance of those in law enforcement.
“We know that Blue Lives Matter,” she continued. “That’s in in our culture already, to respect police, to understand what it is that they go through. However, I feel it has gone a complete turn where we must only always see the side of the police and not necessarily the people who they are supposed to protect.”
Prioritizing Diversity in Hiring Practices and Beyond
Panel members also called for greater diversity in the workforce in the Gunnison Valley. One question asked why hiring the most qualified person for a job wasn’t always how they appeared in their resume. Business owner Karen Hoskins noted the qualities that minorities and women bring to a work setting and encouraged business owners to be more proactive in finding those candidates.
Additionally, local preschool teacher and founder of The Melanin Mountain Project, Chloe Bowman addressed manners in which racism can be corrected: through overcoming thoughts of guilt and being overwhelmed so that the lives of others are not devalued. Through pushing uncomfortable conversations, Bowman said, there will be change.
Finally, Luna shared an example of how Western has recently engaged in a year-long process to look at its own practices of incorporating diversity and inclusion on campus. She shared that a preliminary report has pointed to areas where Western can make improvements; even before a final report has been issued, action has been taken.
“We’ve already started enacting a number of workshops that are helping to broaden curriculum so that we can be more inclusive in terms of what we are presenting in class,” she said. “as educators we have a great responsibility to be inclusive and to hear everyone’s voice.”
Author Credit: Chris Rourke
Photo Credit: Western Marketing