Monday :: Nov 21, 2005

Racist Death Threats at the University of Colorado, Boulder

by eriposte

A long time ago I visited Boulder, Colorado and I still have fond memories of Boulder and the University of Colorado (CU) there. So, the recent news of a despicable incident at the university - combining the worst of racism and hate - was a shock. What's more, the incident doesn't seem to be an aberration but merely the most egregious example of racism and hatred in a campus that appears to have seen multiple incidents in the last year or two. Based on some communication with a contact at the University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder, I understand that words of support are being expressed by community members for the victim. However, it appears that broad-based community involvement in the form of active participation (especially by the majority White population) to reverse the scourge of racism on campus needs to increase substantially.

Readers and bloggers (especially those based in Colorado) may want to take note of this (if you haven't already) and contact university and city officials to urge them to motivate the broader CU and Boulder community to act more aggressively to fish out the bigots and haters in their midst and create a more friendly and less threatening environment for minorities at the CU Boulder campus. [Blog coverage of this issue appears to be minimal to none so far (from a Google search). The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus blog has a brief mention.]

In this post I have collected some background information about the recent incident and past incidents from news reports, and some relevant contact information.

1. Racist death threat to CU student body president Mebraht Gebre-Michael

2. Similar threats received by other minority students of CU in the past year

3. Other incidents of racism and hatred against minorities at CU in the recent past

4. Contact information for CU officials and local City officials

4.1 CU Police
4.2 Top University Officials
4.3 Boulder City Council

1. Racist death threat to CU student body president Mebraht Gebre-Michael

Last week, a hate-filled racist death threat was sent by email to University of Colorado Student Union Tri-executive (a Student Body President) Mebraht Gebre-Michael (a 21 year old junior). She describes a portion of that email in her article in the Colorado Daily. An extract of her article is mentioned below. I have edited the article as follows: the partial text from the email she received is shown in italics, some letters in the offensive words in the email she received have been replaced with *s [for obvious reasons], and emphasis is added in bold in places.

Warning to readers: this column contains quotations of language some readers might find offensive.


Why don't you and all of your black a*s n*gger friends disappear off our campus. You guys don't belong and you look so f**king ridiculous walking around school with your stupid hair and ugly monkey skin. You will die if you run for student government again. I don't make empty threats so spread this along your f**king n*ggers buds!”

This is a message I came across Tuesday morning that was sent to my Webmail inbox. “Black Bitch” is the subject of the message. My first thought? This has to be a joke, right? Someone is trying to play a game with me, right? With further reading and analysis, I realized someone was not playing a game with me. My life has been threatened, and I do not stand alone.

Listen to me please, MY LIFE HAS BEEN THREATENED. There are two other members of the small Black community here at CU that have received similar hate messages within the past year that I know of - me being the first Black female that has received such a hateful message, again, that I know of.

A Colorado e-mail address sent this message to me, meaning someone on the CU Boulder campus could have logged on to any Internet connection and sent me this message entitled “Black Bitch.”

I am angry. I am hurt. I am sad. I am confused. Why was I pinpointed? Why has it become okay to send hateful, hurtful messages to students threatening their lives? The climate of our campus has become unbearable for me and most students of color.

I recommend that readers read Gebre-Michael's entire article here. I certainly hope that CU finds and strongly punishes the culprit(s) in short order. It was courageous of Gerbe-Michael to write about this threat and bring to the community's attention that there are deranged racist haters in their midst. For one, it has helped reveal more such incidents in the past year (see below).

2. Similar threats received by other minority students of CU in the past year

Stephanie Olson of Colorado Daily reported this on 11/17/05 (I have edited this in similar fashion to the article above):

More racist e-mails have been revealed after Mebraht Gebre-Michael, tri-executive for the University of Colorado Student Union, received a racially charged message threatening her life Tuesday.

Kerry Kite, co-founder of Shoulder 2 Shoulder, a student-led group promoting cultural unity in Boulder, said she has four separate e-mails that mimic the e-mail sent to Gebre-Michael, containing death threats and derogatory references CU football players.

N*ggers don't belong on this campus so leave or else pay the price you f**king monkey n*gger,” Kite read from one of the e-mails.

Another e-mail read, “You and your n*gger friends still got it coming and that's a f**king promise fool.”

Kite said the e-mails date as far back as August 2004 and extend through March 2005. She said students brought them to the student organization Shoulder 2 Shoulder last spring. Kite is a co-founder of Shoulder 2 Shoulder.

The Colorado Daily could not obtain copies of the e-mails from Kite for verification by its deadline Thursday night.

Meanwhile, the CU Police Department has begun its investigation into Gebre-Michael's e-mail message.

Olson's article discusses some of the issues surrounding email IDs, IP addresses and how to track down the author(s) of these emails. She also captures some of the community outrage surrounding this.

That's not all. It turns out there have been many other examples of overt racism at CU Boulder in the recent past (see below).

3. Other incidents of racism and hatred against minorities at CU in the recent past

Stephanie Olson of Colorado Daily reported this on 11/20/05:

Joanna Burrows, a CU junior, says racism on campus is subtle. “It's institutionalized,” she said. “It's more of a hidden racism that lies beneath layers and layers and layers of structure that society builds.”

On Nov. 15, the University of Colorado Student Union (UCSU) Tri-Executive Mebraht Gebre-Michael received a racist-motivated e-mail from a CU address threatening her life. The CU Police Department has met with the student whose e-mail account was used, and that person has denied sending the e-mail.

“You will die if you run for student government again. I don't make empty threats,” read the e-mail.
Pauline Hale, CU spokesperson, said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Ron Stump has pledged $5,000 for a reward through Boulder County Crime Stoppers to anyone who provides information about the e-mail leading to an arrest, and hopes others in the community will do the same.

Burrows is a friend of Gebre-Michaels.

“I fear for her and I also fear for myself,” Burrows said. “It's just really tiresome.”

This is not the only instance of publicized racism at CU.

In March, former UCSU member, Jarvis Fuller, received a racist note in his mailbox at the UCSU offices.

In the same semester, offensive graffiti was found in one of the dorms on campus during the Big 12 Black Student Government Conference at CU and a racially motivated altercation broke out between two students in a classroom in the Muenzinger Psychology building.

In June, CU student Andrew Sterling was racially attacked while walking towards the Hill from Pearl Street.

“It (hate) is something that students of color face every day and it's the reality that we have to face here at CU,” Israel Garcia, a junior at CU, told the Colorado Daily recently.

Garcia said the CU campus is riddled with ignorance.

“Students don't know what goes on at this campus and to a large degree they don't care,” he said. “It's incidents like this (Gebre-Michael's e-mail) that bring it to light.”

Dee Zucco, a fifth-year senior at CU, echoes Garcia's sentiment.

“I think that it (racism) is prevalent, but I think for the white majority, they don't realize that it's happening even when students of color or allies tell them that racism is happening,” she said. “They hear it and they think about it for a second and they say ‘That's really shitty,' and then they don't take action.”

Zucco said all students on campus need to be encouraged to listen to what students of color are saying and actually take action.

The Daily Camera at Boulder, covered the death threat (above) and added the following (article is behind a firewall now; emphasis mine):

A letter condemning the e-mail circulated campus Wednesday. By the end of the day, it contained more than 100 signatures from CU departments and offices, as well as individuals on campus.

"We are disgusted that someone would engage in such a cowardly attack directed at a member of our community who has done so much good for our campus," the letter reads.

In April, 125 minority students gathered to talk to CU Regents and Democratic leaders about numerous racist incidents on the Boulder campus.

Last school year, racial slurs were scrawled on dorm walls, a classroom fistfight erupted over a racial slur and a disparaging letter was left in a black student-government leader's mailbox.

In June, a black CU student was beaten in what police say was a racially motivated attack.

Last week, "Death to gays" was written on a bench near CU's Norlin Library.

The Denver Post reported on the death threat on 11/17/05 as well, and also noted the following (emphasis mine):

CU and Boulder have dealt with high-profile racial incidents since at least spring, when visitors attending a black-student government conference reported being badgered. Last summer, CU student Andrew Sterling's jaw was broken by a man he said was shouting racial slurs at him.

The incidents prompted stern responses from CU and the city, which formed the Citizens United Against Hate committee.
Gebre-Michael is an active member of the committee as well as other campus groups including the Black Student Alliance. She said she has seen how hard the campus and city officials work toward tolerance. Still, she said there are many similar incidents that go unreported.

Interim chancellor Phil DiStefano condemned the e-mail and urged anyone with information to contact police.

"I am extremely disturbed to learn of a racist message e-mailed recently to one of our student leaders at CU-Boulder," he said. "Such hate-filled words do not reflect the values of this campus community. When any member is attacked with such a vicious message, we all are attacked."

[Note that the Rocky Mountain News and UPI/Washington Times also briefly reported this incident].

Needless to say, this should concern everyone. CU officials are trying to address these acts of racism, but in a communication with a contact at CU, I got the impression that the broader community (especially the majority White population) needs to become more actively involved in fighting racism and exposing those among them who are racists.

I have therefore provided some contact information (below) for CU and Boulder city officials, for readers who can spare a few minutes to write to (or call) these officials. Please urge them to do more to motivate the broader CU and Boulder community to participate more actively in addressing racism and hatred, including, exposing the racists and haters in their midst. It is important for the community to provide a welcoming and non-threatening atmosphere for minorities and those who seek to expose the racists in the community.

4. Contact information for CU officials and local City officials

[Bold text is my emphasis]

4.1 CU Police

The CU Police have posted this statement on the CU website:

CU Police Seek Identifying Information On Email Sender
Nov. 18, 2005

Contact: Det. Jason Wade
(303) 492-8168

or paged via dispatch at (303) 492-6666

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 10:35 a.m., a racist email message was sent from the center computer in a group of three computers (pictured in the attached photo) located on the first floor of the University Memorial Center atrium. The computers are located south of the entrance to the CU Credit Union office and face the atrium entrance.

The University of Colorado Police Department is investigating this criminal incident and is appealing for any information about the perpetrator of this crime.

If anyone was present in the area at the time of this incident who might have information relating to the identification of the sender of the email, including anyone who might have seen the suspect at the computer or in the immediate area, please call the University of Colorado Police Department at (303) 492-8168. Please talk to either an on-duty police officer or leave a message for Detective Jason Wade at (303) 492-8168.

4.2 Top University Officials

(a) Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Susan Avery (responsible for Diversity issues)

You can contact Vice Chancellor Avery using this information:

Feel free to contact the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs office via e-mail at vcaa@spot.Colorado.EDU

(b) Vice Chancellor for Administration, Paul Tabolt (responsible for Public Safety)

You can contact Vice Chancellor Tabolt using this information:

Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administration
303 Regent Administrative Center
24 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0024
Phone: 303-492-7523
Fax: 303-492-8496

(c) Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs

You can contact the Student Affairs Vice Chancellor using this information:

Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
Regent 307
031 UCB
Boulder, CO, 80309-0031
Phone: (303) 492-8476.

(d) President, CU

You can also contact the President of the University of Colorado, Hank Brown, with this information:

Email the President []

Phone: 303-492-6201

Office of the President, University of Colorado, 35 SYS, 914 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80309-0035

4.3 Boulder City Council

Contact information:

You may contact the City Council in several ways. You may send an e-mail to, you may call at 303-441-3090 or send a fax to 303-441-4478. You may send a letter to:

City Council
P.O. Box 791
Boulder, CO 80306

Physical Address: Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway, 2nd floor, Boulder, CO 80302

Under Colorado law, most communication from a constituent to City Council is considered a public record and is open to inspection by any person upon request. The City may withhold a document from public inspection only if it is permitted to do so by law.

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