Pioneer Card fiasco illustrates how DU’s version of ‘inclusive excellence’ fails community

LetsGoDU has confirmed that a handful of DU students and administrative officials were the key drivers behind the removal of the words “Pioneer Card” from campus-wide ID cards, rather than being merely an “unfortunate error” or a “communications breakdown”. Emerging details suggest DU Communications, which previously offered those excuses, may also have been misled about the scheme.

A former (recently graduated) Clarion editor recently posted a Facebook comment to our previous article, confirming that the removal of the words “Pioneer Card” was not an error, but was “a student-run initiative”. (Although the commenter would not provide further information, it is known that this was not an act of the campus-wide University Student Government.) Further, as the ordering of all campus-wide identification cards is surely not within the purview of whatever students were behind the “initiative”, it is clear that a DU senior administrator must have been deeply involved.

Indeed, senior DU officials have now confirmed to LetsGoDU that the change in the student card falls squarely under the Division of “Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence”. It also appears that the Division’s administrators may have intentionally taken advantage of the leadership vacuum caused by the sudden departure of Chancellor Rebecca Chopp last spring due to health reasons.

LetsGoDU has been advised that new “Pioneer Cards” will be ordered and provided to all new campus arrivals this fall. Cardholders will then have the option to return to the Pioneer ID Office and have the header changed to ‘The University of Denver’ if they desire. Based on past actions at DU, however, we would not be surprised if DU soon claims it has been unable to get the new “Pioneer Cards” printed in time for the fall arrivals. By next year, again, don’t be surprised if we are advised that the Pioneer-less ID cards are part of a “new tradition” at DU.

If the issuing of only Pioneer-less ID cards was a mistake, why did it take LetsGoDU to uncover the “error”, while students, faculty, and contractors have been issued blank cards for months? Is it possible that some DU administrators were aware of and quite pleased with the Pioneer Card erasure?

It seems clear now that this newest attack on the Pioneer name was triggered intentionally by the Division of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence working covertly to erase the ‘Pioneer’ nickname, just as they have on other Pioneer-named programs since the 2018 Board of Trustees decision that DU was in fact keeping and committing to its 94-year-old nickname. The same Division was also behind the renaming of the “Pioneer Awards” and the changing of the first-year “Pioneer Passage” ceremony to the generically-named “New Student Convocation”. 

Further, it appears to LetsGoDU that this divisive behavior is a symptom of a much larger problem. Rather than bringing students together, the Division of “Inclusive Excellence” appears to be driving a wedge between students and further alienating its alumni base.

Just take a look at the most recent Princeton Review student survey, in which DU recently touted its strong 2019 performance on Best College Library (#4) and Most Popular Study Abroad (#6). What DU didn’t highlight this year was the embarrassing reality that DU finished in the bottom 5% nationally out of 385 schools on “Little Race/Class Interaction” (18th from the bottom out of 385 schools), which was ‘based on how strongly students agree that different types of students interact frequently and easily at their schools’. This suggests that while there is diversity on campus, students from different races and classes are not interacting easily with each other. 

Williams Tower Report CardInterestingly, when the same publication, Princeton Review, revealed in 2005 that DU was among the least diverse schools in country, DU made a massive strategic shift to make diversity an important institutional priority. Diversity administrators were hired; DU’s hiring and recruiting changed to emphasize diversity; DU’s marketing was changed to emphasize diversity; and a massive emphasis was placed on campus Inclusive Excellence programming. 

It’s clear, however, that while the current approach might be improving the quantitative aspects of diversity, it is also a driving force behind an increasingly divided student body and failing to promote student engagement and unity across all demographics.  Some multi-cultural students have expressed concern about the pressure placed on them to be part of multi-cultural student “alliances”. Rather than being part of DU student life in general, they feel pressured by campus staff to take on the role of representatives of “their” people. These same student alliances have in the past devoted considerable time and attention to matters such as a campaign against a cartoon-character mascot rather than to matters such as encouragement and assistance for first-generation students. Still other students have reported being fearful of even discussing diversity with other students for fear of being labeled “racist”.

Let’s be clear. We are in favor of additive diversity efforts on campus that bring students (and alumni) together. The Arapaho and Cheyenne flags hung in 2018 at the Student Union and the monumental limestone sculptures, “Harvest on the Rio Grande”, in front of the Graduate School of Social Work are just two of the recent visual efforts on campus that make great sense. We have also always argued that DU athletics provides a great opportunity to build school spirit and bring the campus community together. But the exclusionary emphasis of DU’s “Inclusive Excellence” is turning students off rather than touching students’ hearts and minds.

DU’s “Inclusive Excellence” appears hellbent on emphasizing differences and smashing traditions rather than building on what brings us together. One can’t help but wonder if focusing on these differences may help these DU administrators justify their salaries and their budgets, even while it does great harm to the school and to school spirit overall. 

The recent Princeton Review results are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. DU needs to take a good, hard look in the mirror right now and make some changes if campus unity and true inclusive excellence is the University’s goal.