Since Colorado College junior Marquis Malcom was suspended last May, he has watched, from behind a fence, as his football teammates have played without him. He's barbecued with his friends in the evening, after they've piled into his off-campus home.
His exile wouldn't bother him, he says, had it been fair.
As Malcom tells it, his semester-long suspension stems from a fight that broke out six months ago at a neighborhood party. One student hit a friend, and Malcom retaliated.
"People start throwing punches, and I punch," he says.
But Malcom was suspended while the other student was exonerated. The difference, Malcom says, is that he's black.
"If I was a white kid, I don't think this would be happening."
Two weeks ago, Malcom penned a timeline of the incident and his failed efforts to reduce his sentence. It recounts numerous meetings with college administrators, a run-in with campus security, and what he calls "racial comments" from a dean. Another friend, Egduard Juaregui, circulated the e-mail around campus and spent lunch hours in the student center gathering signatures for Malcolm's "immediate return" to CC. So far, Juaregui says, about 13 percent of students have signed.
Minority student leaders petitioned administrators to respond to Malcom's claims of racism, but were met with a simple, sterile answer about the value of "maintaining a diverse, respectful community" and a "commitment to confidentiality" at the college.
Minority student groups have been reluctant to endorse the cause, because they have so few details. College faculty and administrators would not verify Malcom's account for this story. But no one denies that the junior has become the center of a campus-wide debate regarding racism and anti-discrimination policy at the four-year private institution.
Race-related controversy is not new to Colorado College, where a typical class numbers only one or two minority students. Four years ago, the weekly student newspaper, The Catalyst, ran an April Fool's edition that described a fake new TV show called "Niggalodeon."
The incident, which garnered national media attention, moved the college to aggressively recruit students of color. While their numbers have risen, albeit sluggishly, over the past two years, their percentage of the student body has actually dropped slightly. This year, 375 of the 1,939 students on campus or 19.4 percent are people of color, as compared to 20.4 percent in 2004.
Philosophy professor Alberto Hernandez-Lemus, who co-chairs the Minority Concerns Committee, says the Malcom case has provoked the school to take a critical look at its underused anti-discrimination panel, which addresses campus grievances regarding bias. Juaregui claims he tried to bring Malcom's case to the group, but that it was too disorganized to take it on.
As students clamor to find out what really happened, Associate Dean of Students Ginger Morgan says she won't breach confidentiality in the Malcom case.
"We think if students are found responsible, that they can grow and learn and change," she says. "We don't want their conduct hanging over them like a scarlet letter during their time at CC."
Sophomore LaTia Walker, a leader in the Black Student Union and one of four individuals who petitioned the administration for a response, says no student negates Malcom's claims, and that everyone wants to know more. As someone "concerned about discrimination in general on campus," she says the difficulties minority students face actually prepare them for a bitter reality outside of school.
"CC is a microcosm of a place where everything is not perfect," she says. "I don't think you gain anything without struggling through something."