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University leader criticized for using ‘trail of tears’

September 4, 2020 GMT

DENVER (AP) — University of Colorado Boulder President Mark Kennedy has received criticism from its Native American and Indigenous Studies Center after using the phrase “trail of tears” colloquially in a faculty meeting last week.

Kennedy was quoted in a write-up of the meeting published Thursday where he was talking about the difficulty and importance of making online learning a success, The Denver Post reported.

“On-campus is declining and online is growing. If we don’t get online right… we have a trail of tears in front of us,” Kennedy said.

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The Trail of Tears refers to when about 60,000 Native American people were forced from their land between 1830 and 1850, the Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies said. Thousands of Native people died from exposure, malnutrition, disease and gunshot wounds.

“For anyone to use the phrase ‘trail of tears’ flippantly represents ignorance of these atrocities at best, and willful verbal harm at worst,” the center’s statement said.

Kennedy apologized for what he said was a “poor choice of words” and the quote was deleted from the university’s account of the meeting.

“I have asked that the phrase be deleted from the electronic version of CU Connections and that we add an editor’s note with my apology,” Kennedy said. “I’m committed to fostering an inclusive environment at CU, where everyone feels that they belong. I recognize that words matter in doing that.”