To deepen and reinforce Fort Lewis College’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the Board of Trustees agreed Thursday to examine taking several steps, including creating a trustee subcommittee devoted to the issue.
The move would grant diversity, equity and inclusion issues status as among the most important responsibilities for the board, which has three subcommittees devoted to governance, business affairs, and academic and student affairs.
Trustees met Thursday on campus and remotely on Zoom to discuss ways to further commit the institution to diversity.
The effort is viewed as especially important at FLC, which is designated by the U.S. Department of Education as one of six Native American-serving, nontribal colleges in the country.
“We want to build a structural way to carry forward our commitment and efforts,” said Becky Clausen, associate professor of sociology and human service and the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees.
Other ideas to institutionalize a campus commitment to diversity included creating a one- to two-page statement explaining the history of the tuition waiver provided to Native American students. The statement would also explain the school’s complicated history as an Indian boarding school that forcibly assimilated Native American children to white, Christian culture.
Trustee Ellen Roberts, who suggested the statement about the tuition waiver and the history of FLC, said Board of Trustee Chairman Ernest House Jr. and she spent several years in the Colorado General Assembly explaining why the “tuition waiver was nonnegotiable” during budget debates.
The state of Colorado pays the tuition for Native American students who attend FLC, and cutting funding for the tuition waiver is occasionally suggested by state lawmakers as a measure to reduce budget expenses.
The tuition waiver stems from a 1910 agreement between the state and the federal government in which the federal government granted the Hesperus property on which the Old Fort was built to the state on the stipulation that the school remain an education center inclusive of Native American students, who would be admitted free of charge.
“FLC is a pretty unique institution,” Roberts said. She added that a one-page history of the tuition waiver and an inclusive history of the institution that doesn’t obscure the school’s painful history as a boarding school would be helpful not only to incoming trustees, but also to newly arriving students, their parents and even to budget-conscious state lawmakers.
Ally Gee, a public health major at FLC and a member of the Navajo Nation, the Diné, said the tuition waiver sometimes causes friction among students, and if all students, no matter their family backgrounds, were aware of the origins of the waiver, less resentment would be felt on campus by students who are not eligible for it.
Gee said she has talked with students who have told her they “wanted to get a blood test to see if they are Native American so they could come here for free.”
Other trustees suggested other ideas to formalize FLC’s efforts to deepen diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
Trustee Janet Lopez suggested creating a special section at each board meeting when trustees could address issues concerning diversity, equity and inclusion.
Trustee Alan Hill suggested the board examine supporting faculty to improve their teaching skills to students of color.
Trustee Dick Kaufman suggested the faculty provide the trustees with a reading list to help them self-educate about diversity issues and issues important in communities of color.
“I’ve done some reading, but I have to admit, I’m basically ignorant of Native American history,” he said.