Making the Places We Go Inclusive

There’s an old saying that history is written by the winners.


Nicki Gonzales, Regis associate professor of history and vice provost for diversity and inclusion, agrees.

“Monuments are a time stamp of their present moment, built by people whose voices are the loudest and the most politically and economically powerful at the time,” says Gonzales. “They memorialize and celebrate the values most important to the people at that time. The victors get to erect the statues.”

This explains why so many streets, schools, parks and playgrounds bear the names of white men. And so many monuments in Colorado celebrate white warriors. But across the country, those monuments have been toppling and those names are being re-examined as part of the racial reckoning sparked this year by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Colorado is no exception, and Gonzales is playing a major role in the process.

This summer, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed Gonzales to the 12-member Geographic Naming Advisory Board. The board is considering renaming specific public monuments and places, including Mt. Evans, whose namesake enabled a massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek in 1864; Redskin Mountain west of Castle Rock; and Squaw Mountain near Idaho Springs.

This spring, residents of the community built on the site of the old Denver airport voted to change its name after activists objected to honoring former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, a one-time member of the KKK.

As a historian, Gonzales supports presenting the removed monuments in a historical display, as the History Colorado museum recently did with the statue of a soldier who participated in a massacre. As a museum exhibit, the statue, which was toppled this summer at the state Capitol, can educate future generations about why it was once given such a prominent pedestal and why it was removed.

But she doesn’t view removing monuments or renaming school mascots as erasing that past. On the contrary, “it’s about writing a fuller history and correcting myths we’ve created about our past,” she said.

Gonzales is hopeful that in this moment, the momentum for meaningful change is real.