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A legacy of education: 3 Denver universities, colleges extend free tuition forever to descendants of Auraria displacement

CU Denver holds event honoring displaced residents of Old Auraria
Posted at 11:31 PM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 13:25:20-04

DENVER — Descendants of the roughly 300 people who were removed from the now-extinct Auraria neighborhood in West Denver in the 1960s were recognized on the land that now belongs to the state and is operated by Auraria Higher Education Center.

Three higher education institutions occupy the campus: University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Community College of Denver.

Campus regents gathered the former residents at CU Denver for a dedication and an extension of a promise granted to them decades ago.

When the school removed the neighborhood, it allowed all displaced residents and their descendants free tuition for an associate or bachelor's degree at the school.

On Thursday, that promise was extended for generations to come into perpetuity. The regents also extended the scope of the scholarship to include master's and PHD degrees.

"The limitation that had been in place prior, the limitation on the number of credits has been removed. And the limitation that the scholarship applies to only children and grandchildren has been removed," said Nolbert Chavez a regent at CU. " This means that the scholarship will live in perpetuity."

Several of the displaced residents also attended the ceremony. Maria Dolores Gallegos Freyta, and several members of her family, attended the

"It was a sad thing because they lost it all," Maria Dolores Gallegos Freyta said, referring to the residents who were displaced.

Most of the people who lived in the area before it became the Auraria Campus were Native American, Latino or of Italian descent.

"Everything changed," she said.

While the promise for free tuition had been made to the residents, many of the people who could have benefited didn't realize it until decades later.

"It shouldn't have been hidden. That's the most important thing. It was not easy to find," said Julie Anne Davis, Maria Dolores Gallegos' daughter.

Davis found out about the promise when she was a senior at Metro State in 1997. Her discovery led to more than 30 members of their family going to college.

With the announcement Thursday, Davis said she is grateful to know the opportunity is now out in the open for all of the people who once called Auraria home to benefit from what their families lost.

"A lot of things were taken from us, and now we get restoration in a way that is so valuable, and it's forever," Davis said. "I feel grateful, and to know that what they did and how they set it and opened it up to make it where it's not going to be difficult for our family anymore — that just makes me feel really good."