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W. Kamau Bell sparks conversation on race, culture, democracy

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Collegian | Courtesy of Colorado State University

The laughter of over five hundred members of the Colorado State University and Fort Collins communities spilled from the Lory Student Center ballrooms Monday evening. The cause of such ruckus, a tall Black man adorned in yellow, was comedian, producer and director W. Kamau Bell. 

Bell was chosen to be the opening keynote speaker of CSU’s Democracy Summit week. Bell’s ability to discuss race, culture and democracy while simultaneously entertaining audience members is likely the reason 500 people RSVP’d for this opening event. 

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“We started talking about, ‘Who is a cultural icon who touches the topic of democracy?’” said Beth Etter, director of communications for the College of Liberal Arts. “Someone that might be well known that both campus folks and community folks would be interested in hearing from.”

“It really gives all students and faculty a look at how the College of Liberal Arts is helping to sustain democracy and then also showcases the work that our students and faculty in the college are already doing.” –Karrin Anderson, communications studies professor

Designed as a conversation between Bell, President Amy Parsons and four liberal arts students, this event achieved the Democracy Summit’s goal of involving students. 

“It was really important to President Parsons that our students be engaged in this particular conversation,” Etter said. “We’re excited about the opportunity for our campus to engage with Kamau Bell in maybe a slightly different way than just hearing a lecture.”

In his conversation with students and Parsons, one thing Bell emphasized was how CSU can improve. Specifically, he explained that CSU should do more to show gratitude to the Native Americans whose land the university resides on. Bell said that while having a land acknowledgment statement is good, paying a land tax to Native Americans or even returning some of the land would be better.

“I think we should really seriously look into it and the option of a land tax that goes to the Native Americans that lived here,” said Luke George, an instructor in the department of fish, wildlife and conservation biology who attended the event. 

Bell also touched on several other serious topics, such as diversifying one’s media diet, the definition of free speech, the importance of surrounding oneself with smart people and that voting is really the bare minimum one can do to help democracy. 

“I just really enjoy the work he does,” George said. “He’s funny, but he hits really hard-hitting questions, and he isn’t afraid to walk into really difficult situations and learn about them.”

The remainder of the week features discussions from academic experts within the College of Liberal Arts as well as film documentaries and the opportunity for students to win prizes in RamCash and get free food at certain events. 

“It really gives all students and faculty a look at how the College of Liberal Arts is helping to sustain democracy and then also showcases the work that our students and faculty in the college are already doing,” said Karrin Anderson, a professor of communication studies at CSU.

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The goal of the Democracy Summit week is to shed a light on democracy that is different from what people normally associate political conversations with.

“I am looking forward to helping our community get engaged and excited about democracy in a way that hopefully is positive and not just negative or stressful or polarizing,” Anderson said. 

Reach McKenna Van Voris at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @mckenna_vv.

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