Identity Politics Run Amok at the University of Denver


Free Speech Wall at the University of Denver

Their heads full of self-righteousness and the angst of youth, too many campus activists seem determined to impose identity politics on campuses.

In 2015, some students at Princeton University acting under the banner of the Black Justice League demanded “cultural competency training” for faculty and staff, required classes on “marginalized peoples,” and a dedicated space on campus for black students.

The same misguided thinking has now infected my alma mater, the University of Denver.

In September 2016, the message “Disrupt the Peace, White Silence = Violence, White People Do Something, #BlackLivesMatter,” was painted on the university’s Free Speech Wall. The Wall was subsequently defaced to change the message , leading to a sit-in, a march and an Oct. 7 meeting with the school’s chancellor, Rebecca Chopp.

At that meeting, the Black Student Alliance presented the chancellor with a list of demands, including:

  • That a former mascot, called Boone (after Daniel Boone), be prohibited at any DU events because it is “representative of the western extinction of Native American culture” and that another mascot be picked “that celebrates inclusion and diversity while also acknowledging the history of the university’s part in violence against Native Americans”
  • That DU stop calling the students, teams, etc. “Pioneers”, which they’ve been doing since 1925, because “The term ‘pioneer’ is highly problematic for many, especially Native American students, as it is defined as a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area.
  • That all students applying to DU be required to write an essay articulating their understanding of Inclusive Excellence.
  • That all students complete a curriculum in “Race, Inequality & Social Change” in order to earn a degree.
  • That DU establish an Ethnic Studies Department.
  • That DU provide a budget for the following heritage/history month programs and events:

February – Black History Month

March – Women’s History Month

May – Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

June – LGBT Pride Month

September – Latinx Heritage Month

October – LGBT History Month

November – Native American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month

In a counterintuitive move, a group of student leaders subsequently imposed restrictions on what could be written on the Free Speech Wall and a camera was installed to monitor who’s writing what there.

Hate speech has also been prohibited on the Wall. Hate speech “may take the form of direct or indirect offensive slurs, jokes, messages, or attacks on members of the DU community based on their race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, abilities, socioeconomic background, or sexual orientation,” a memo said.

The memo concluded with the nonsensical comment that “…these guidelines are not intended to restrict free expression; rather they are a means through which we can continue to thrive as an inclusive community with a shared value system and many varied viewpoints.”

Is all this really where we want our universities to go —coercive cultural sensitivity training, the Orwellian suppression of free speech in the name of supporting openness, the elimination of historical references that don’t conform to modern sensibilities, the imposition of identity politics?

The fact is, erasing history solves nothing. Nor does mandated cultural awareness. And the explosion of racial and ethnic heritage months is taking us all in the wrong direction. What we really need is to incorporate recognition and appreciation of various heritages into the daily flow of our calendar and lives.