Students protest CU Denver’s contract with ink! coffee

Photo credit: Bobby Jones • CU Denver Sentry

New location stirs student concerns

The Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center is scheduled to debut its expansive recreational spaces in May. Though CU Denver students can look forward to using the building’s open kitchens, rock climbing wall, and massage services, there is one amenity that isn’t being received positively by select people on the Auraria Campus, and that’s a new location of ink! Coffee.

Photo credit: Bobby Jones • CU Denver Sentry

Last semester, ink! Coffee placed a sign outside of their Five Points location that read, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.” The other side read, “Nothing says gentrification like being able to order a cortado.” Five Points is a neighborhood historically populated by people of color, and as new businesses have raised the cost of living beyond what many multi-generation residents can afford, this joke sparked controversy not only within the CU Denver community but across the country as a whole. After a photo of the sign gained traction on social media, protesters gathered outside the franchise for days, and outlets like The New York Times and Huffington Post gave the story national attention.

Students who are opposed to the presence of the franchise in the Wellness Center took to campus streets and organized the hashtag #KeepInkOffMyHands, even though the deal was made years before the controversy. The title of the hashtag was also used in a campus-wide petition made by the protestors. The petition reads, “It was then brought to the attention of several students that Amber Long, director of the CU Denver Wellness Center, and her team have decided, without any student input, that ink! Coffee should be welcomed onto our campus as a vendor in our new wellness center. This is a blatant disregard to how the diverse population of CU students, and all Auraria community, may have felt about this decision. (sic)”

CU Denver administration has responded to the protestors. “Two years ago, CU Denver Student Government representatives, staff, and other members of our campus community selected ink! Coffee as a vendor for the new Student Wellness Center,” Amber Long said. “Soon after the company posted its controversial signage at its Five Points location, CU Denver leadership met with the ink! Owners to discuss the relationship going forward. At that time, ink! Owners acknowledged their mistake, expressed remorse, and conveyed a commitment to increasing cultural awareness within their company and their responsibility to the community going forward.” Some students are not convinced that ink! has learned their lesson.

Alex Gomez, an illustration major at CU Denver, is part of this crowd. “ink! Coffee messed up, majorly,” Gomez said. “But it’s almost like we’re at this point of where the company needs to put their money where their mouth is. It might not be enough to say sorry and say they’ll educate themselves; maybe they should do something bigger to help those who’ve been displaced by the same gentrification they’ve contributed to.”

Other students had more angry responses—like Cameron Cornn, a psychology major at CU Denver.

“My family has been affected by gentrification and for someone to make a joke about it seems like a personal attack to me,” Cornn said. “You can’t just say sorry. You said it, now show us you’re actually sorry. It’d be awesome if they gave back to those who were displaced by setting up a scholarship for the kids who were displaced from their gentrification or something along those lines.”

“Saying sorry is just PR damage control,” Kat Azarkh, a public health major at CU Denver, said. “People aren’t upset that it was said. I think more people are upset that it’s actually happening.”

As the Auraria Campus system expanded throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, residents of the pre-existing neighborhood were displaced to create space for new classrooms and administrative buildings. To this day, CU Denver, Metro State, and CCD offer  Displaced Aurarian scholarships, an award that covers tuition for relocated families and their descendents.

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