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Bob Yates Removed from CWA Role Amid Accusations of Coded Racial Language

Bob Yates Removed from CWA Role Amid Accusations of Coded Racial Language


Correction 6/6/2024 Correction: Yates was a volunteer coordinator not a Board member

Yates cited poor speaking abilities, political fairness, as reasons to remove Junie Joseph from Conference on World Affairs, replace with her political opponent.

The Conference on World Affairs is a decorated event held at the University of Colorado Boulder for over 70 years. It is meant to be a guiding beacon of inclusion, cooperation, and discussion that transcends traditional biases and prejudices that are found ever so often in politics. However, for the 2024 event, accusations of coded language and possible racially motivated decisions surfaced. 

On March 31st, 2024, an email was shared between Bob Yates, a former organizer of the CWA event, and Yvette Lowney, the current Community Program Chair, urging Lowney not to book Junie Joseph as moderator for one of the keynotes. Following the email, House representative Joseph of Colorado’s 10th district was rejected as a moderator for the keynote discussion on “The Importance of Truth, Honesty, and Integrity in US Politics.

Junie Joseph, House District 10 Representative.

Yates spearheaded this decision based on two aspects. The first was because Joseph is up for reelection in the general election of this year, it would provide an unfair advantage to Joseph as – in the CWA’s board’s eyes – she would be able to use the platform as a form of free campaigning.

On its face, this might have been a fair decision. The current political system as it stands, is full of questionable decisions and backroom deals. At a keynote about expanding the level of integrity in our political system, it would be paramount to keep all potentially corruptible actions as far away from it as possible.

However, and this is where the plot thickens, the choice to install Joseph’s current political opponent Tina Mueh as the moderator appeared disingenuous and potentially rooted in ethnic and racial biases on the part of Yates. It should be noted that Joseph is Haitian and immigrated to the United States at the age of 14.

In the original email Yates sent to Lowney, Yates wrote: I think that we need to be very careful of [Joseph Moderating]. Setting aside my own opinions of Junie’s speaking abilities (which, having served alongside her for four years on city council, are not high), I think that CWA needs to be cautious about not being seen as putting our thumb in the scale of one side of a highly contentious local political race, for no apparent value. One could easily argue that Junie’s opponent, the former head of the teacher’s union, is equally important and certainly more eloquent.” 

It appeared Yates alluded to Joseph’s native Haitian accent and small changes in her vernacular due to learning English as a second language that would disqualify her.

While CU Boulder has hosted the CWA since 1948, the event and the university are considered separate entities and therefore not controlled or moderated by the governing board of CU. This lack of oversight can lead to situations where individuals influence the discussion in unintended or possibly biased ways. Joseph made President of CU, Todd Saliman, aware of the email. Joseph stated:

I am deeply disappointed by the coded language being used by Mr. Yates, referring to my speaking abilities and lack of eloquence according to him. He further states that I should not participate in the CWA events not only because of my poor speaking abilities but also because such an opportunity would give me an advantage over my more eloquent opponent. All the statements made by Mr. Yates concerning my speech are subjective and I accept those criticisms with grace, even though many people have reported to me that the statements reeks of racism. But what disturbed me more beyond the coded language is the fact that the Organization did the very thing that it claimed that it did not wish to do. The very thing that Mr. Yates cautioned the Organization from attempting to do, it has done.” 

Bob Yates, former Boulder city council and CWA board member

After the discovery of this exchange, The boards of both CU and the CWA asked Yates to step away from the role. Yates complied with the request. The CWA board apologized to Joseph and later she moderated a different panel, “Counting Votes and Making Your Votes Count,” on Thursday, April 11th.

An unnamed Yellow Scene Magazine source hinted at a radical change to the oversight process of the CWA and greater transparency. Further, Nicole Mueksch, Acting Director of Issues Management for CU, stated:

“Junie Joseph was invited to speak on the Conference on World Affairs (CWA) panel “Counting votes and making your votes count,” which she did on Thursday, April 11. 

During the CWA planning process, the CWA planning committee was made aware that a CWA volunteer who is not employed by CU Boulder sent an inappropriate message regarding Junie Joseph. As a result, that volunteer was asked to step away from CWA, which they did.”

Yates is an active voice in Boulder politics. Yates ran for mayor of Boulder in 2023 and has spent over 40 years on and around Boulder City Coucil in various roles including sitting on the City Council from 2015 to 2020. The majority of his policies could be classified as a more conservative stance towards the unhoused and crime than other council members and peers. How his policies may have played into his decision to suggest the removal of Joseph from the CWA is subjecture. However, it leads to a bigger question about the systems of power alive in Boulder and surrounding areas.

The removal of Yates from the CWA board is a progressive step, however, it leads to further questions about the leaders who champion progression in the public eye and their decisions made behind the scenes. As Joseph explained, it was less about her not getting to moderate a keynote, but more about how antiquated ideas are continue to be perpetuated by the powers that directly influence the city of Boulder, and by proxy, the rest of Colorado.

Yates did not repsond to our requests for comment on his exchange.


Parker Hicks is a Colorado-based writer and journalist working to uncover the most important stories based in the state. When he is not writing, he climbs, snowboards, and enjoys far too fancy of coffees.

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