When Reiland Rabaka was appointed to lead CU Boulder’s newly established Center for African & African American Studies (CAAAS) in May, the dream he worked on for years was finally realized. That dream wasn’t specifically to be the director of the center; it was for the center to be established at all. 

Rabaka arrived at CU in 2005 to accept a professorship in the Department of Ethnic Studies, and he recalls being shocked that a university of CU’s caliber didn’t already have such a center. Most other top-tier universities, he explains, had already established them following the social awakenings in the ’60s and ’70s.

Over the past 15 years, working in collaboration with faculty members, students and administrators who shared his vision, Rabaka was able to generate ample interest in the establishment of a center on campus. In early 2020, Black student activists, ethnic studies majors and many of Rabaka’s students—sparked anew by the Black Lives Matter movement—started a petition to finally get the center approved by the university. By the end of that spring, they had amassed 1,200 signatures. This accomplishment is remarkable, Rabaka believes, since out of CU’s 37,000+ students, only about 900 are Black (around 3 percent).

In July, CU announced that the new CAAAS (pronounced “cause”) would be housed in the Macky Auditorium building. It’s the ideal place for the center, Rabaka says, since plans include a performing arts series, a distinguished lecture series and an art series that can take advantage of Macky’s celebrated performance spaces. Macky also has space for CAAAS’ other planned initiatives, including faculty and student research, a student center for advising and mentoring, and a work-study program for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Most of all, CAAAS will be “a dedicated space on the Boulder campus to learn about and exchange Black history and culture,” says Rabaka. “It has been a collective effort, and I am honored to lead it and to be the inaugural director. It’s one of the highlights of my intellectual life.”

The Center for African & African American Studies Fund at CU Boulder is accepting donations to provide support to meet CAAAS’ greatest needs. Visit colorado.edu/center/caaas/get-involved for more information or to make a donation.

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