In the beginning, Tamara Williams Van Horn loved her time at the University of Colorado. She was recruited from Ohio to enter the sociology program; CU flew her out and introduced her to faculty members. A “we interview you, but you interview us” scenario in which the goal was to sell Williams Van Horn on a program and a school that had expressed interest in increasing diversity. The department never made any bones about its abundant whiteness, Williams Van Horn says, but the tour concluded with “an extra little supplementary piece just for me showing me the four black people that were on campus.”
Since it was founded 60 years ago, the CU sociology department has graduated only five black doctoral students. Many more students of color, like Williams Van Horn, dropped out or transferred before completing their degree, citing racial discrimination within the department and across the university as a whole as the main reason. Those who claim to have experienced this discrimination say it took many forms such as reduced departmental support, increased teaching workloads, unwilling advisers and derogatory comments. And despite student surveys that appear to confirm these concerns, as well as others such as gender discrimination and sexual harassment, those within (and recently exiled from) the program say a lack of leadership within the department is the main reason the cracks within the system continue to widen.
The department’s alleged failures on discrimination may be a symptom of university-wide directives that include a push by its leaders to bring the university in line with their more conservative perspectives. In recent years, CU has pushed to bring in conservative speakers, advertised the school in conservative publications, and now hosts a conservative thought scholar. According to critics, the casualties of this ideological war on campus culture may be that legitimate claims of discrimination are being viewed as nothing more than a tactic of the “identity politics” of progressives.