- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

DENVER — Students at the University of Colorado at Boulder can take the popular “School and Society” course on Fridays — as long as they’re not white.

That particular section is reserved for “students of color,” according to a course description. It is also open to those of any race who are first-generation college students. Other students can take the course, which is a requirement for education majors, but during a different period.

University officials say the restricted class offers minority students “a much safer and open environment” in which to discuss issues of race, gender and class. But some students say the course represents a disturbing throwback to the days of “separate but equal” education.

“We’ve seen this before, and it was called Brown v. Board of Education,” said senior Brad Jones, referring to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that banned segregation in public schools.

“Unfortunately, this is the way CU has consistently acted and thought about race. Their approach seems to be that diversity should be recognized and celebrated, but also that minority students can’t compete with other students,” Mr. Jones said.

Robert Corry, a Denver-based lawyer representing three CU students, has threatened to take the matter to federal court unless the race restriction is lifted. In a letter to university Vice President Charles Sweet, he accused the state school of violating the constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of race.

“CU needs a remedial education in civil rights,” Mr. Corry said. “This program is indefensible and offensive to minority students. We think as individuals, not members of a race.”

Student Antonia Gaona said she resented the course description’s implicit message that minority students can’t compete with whites. A senior of Hispanic descent, she’s one of the three students represented by Mr. Corry.

“I’m frustrated with programs like this because they force students to identify themselves on the basis of race,” Miss Gaona said. “This is something students my age are trying to get beyond, being identified on the basis of their skin color.

“It’s like the university feels it needs to coddle minority students and have us work with students who only look like us, and that’s not how the real world works,” she added.

Thomas Trager, a lawyer representing the Regents of the University of Colorado, said in a letter to Mr. Corry that the university would respond by today.

The university began offering the race-restricted course last year as an experiment in response to the concerns of minority students, said Lorrie Shepard, dean of the School of Education.

“Often, a student of color would find they were the only nonwhite person in a given section, and … very often, their class would turn to them whenever an issue of race was discussed,” Miss Shepard told the Boulder Daily Camera. “They’d be asked if they agreed with a certain perspective or to defend a position. They’d be put on the spot in ways that made it feel like a hostile environment.”

She said the university complies with federal anti-discrimination laws because white students who are first-generation college students also can take the Friday class. The same course is offered during other periods to all students.

Offering the course to a select group of white students — and then to all students at different times — doesn’t inoculate the course from anti-discrimination laws, Mr. Corry said.

In addition, the course is the only one of its kind offered on Fridays, “so there is no alternative for some students whose schedule permits taking the course at no other time,” he said.

“School and Society” is mandatory for education majors, but the course also is popular among nonmajors because it fulfills the university’s general graduation requirement for “culture and gender diversity.”

“There’s a supreme irony here, because CU requires its students to take a cultural-diversity course to graduate, then it shuts its doors to certain students when they try to satisfy that requirement,” Mr. Corry said.

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