By Sam Seymour
On Monday, March 9, students at Colorado College were focused on getting through the end of Bock 6 and looking forward to the upcoming spring break. The very next day, everything changed. On March 10, the school announced that Block 7 would be taught online via distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One week later, they announced that Block 8 would also be taught online, effectively ending the school year on campus and canceling a variety of upcoming CC events.
The announcement was met with various levels of shock among the CC community. On one hand, CC was following suit with many other universities nationwide by sending their students home. However, four days before the surprising announcement, the school had sent out a coronavirus update that did not seem to foreshadow the cancellation of the remainder of the school year. The update focused on safe travel for spring break and emphasized the importance of not panicking, but it did not mention the possibility of moving to distance learning.
The school gave students one week to leave campus unless they gained special approval to stay on campus, something that was not granted to every student. However, students who had already made plans to leave that Wednesday only had one day to pack up their room unless they made last-minute cancellations. Although some people were upset with the timing of the decision, the school felt that they should act sooner rather than later, as many other colleges nationwide had already made the same decision as early as a week before CC.
In an email to the community sent out a day after the initial decision, the administration said, “While these major decisions may seem to have been made quickly and at an inconvenient time for students and faculty finishing the block, given the escalation of the spread of the virus in recent days, we felt we needed to act before Spring Break. As campus community members shared their Spring Break travel plans, it became clear that many would travel widely. Having hundreds of people return to campus after domestic and international travel and potential exposure to COVID-19 would put the entire campus and greater community at risk.”
The day after the initial announcement was made about the cancellation of Block 7 was an emotional day for seniors, who had just had their final weeks at CC abruptly cut off. Assuming (correctly) that Block 8 would also be cancelled, the seniors held their traditional champagne shower at the flagpole that Wednesday — a celebration that would usually be held during the last week of Block 8.
Unexpectedly, that celebration at the flagpole managed to create a minor national controversy. An article by the Wall Street Journal titled “A Generational War Is Brewing Over Coronavirus” featured a photo of the celebration, with students crowded around popping champagne bottles. The article reprimanded young people for seemingly not caring enough about social distancing guidelines and argued that they would be the ones to make this outbreak even worse.
The article, written on March 18, made one error; the picture had been taken on March 11, days before social distancing guidelines had been outlined by President Trump. The Wall Street Journal apologized for the mistake, and on March 24, CC senior Catie McDonald wrote a letter that ended up being published in the op-ed section of the Wall Street Journal, describing the mistake the paper had made, the significance of the celebration to her and her peers, and how she was now being cautious and social distancing.
On March 17, one week after the initial announcement of distance learning for Block 7, the school announced that Block 8 would also be taught online. This followed Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers ordering a state of emergency and Colorado Governor Jared Polis shutting down restaurants and bars.
Noting the many events and traditions normally held at CC during the last two blocks, President Tiefenthaler wrote in her March 17 email to the campus community, “These have been very difficult decisions. We hoped that early actions to reduce exposure to this virus would have allowed us to come together again at the end of our academic year when we celebrate so many achievements and milestones. While that is not possible, our faculty and staff are working hard to create distance-learning classes that are exciting, challenging, and engaging. In addition, we will find new ways to bring people together, honor the accomplishments and hard work of our students, and create the special experience that is CC, delivered in a different way.”
After the announcement of Block 8 being cancelled, one worry students have had is the fate of their belongings that they had to leave behind in their room. As campus is shut down indefinitely, at least until the end of the school year and possibly longer, many are wondering how they will retrieve their belongings, or if they even can. However, there is at least one way for students not to lose their things.
College Student Storage is a business based in Boulder, Colorado that has been helping college students from both CC and other schools in Colorado store their items over summer break. On March 20, the owner of College Student Storage sent out an email saying that the company would be willing to do in-room pack-ups for students, meaning they would pack belongings up for students and put them in storage until the start of next year. This is encouraging for students, as the school has not been clear about storage, and due to no-travel guidelines in the state has not yet guaranteed that students will be able to come back to retrieve their items.
Even after the tumultuous month of March for Colorado College, the saddest news for some came on March 31, when it was announced that the commencement ceremony in mid-May had been indefinitely postponed. In an email to the Class of 2020, President Tiefenthaler, who is set to leave at the end of the school year, apologized for the situation and empathized with seniors, saying, “I know this is incredibly, and understandably, disappointing, and not what any of us wanted. I was so looking forward to my last Commencement at CC and ‘graduating’ with the Class of 2020. Yet this crisis calls us to think beyond what we are losing as individuals and to instead do our part for the world.” The ceremony has not been rescheduled, and it is possible that the ceremony will not occur at all, as there are questions about whether the next school year will start on time.
While leaving school this early and abruptly is very sudden and sad for many, recent developments have shown that it is the safest option and the right thing to do. On March 30, CC announced that an unnamed person at CC had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The fortunate news is that the person had been off-campus for quite some time before their diagnosis. The email sent to the campus community says, “The campus community member has not had contact with anyone on campus since March 11 — 19 days ago. The CDC believes the incubation period ranges from 2-14 days. The individual was tested on March 21 and was confirmed with COVID-19 on March 29.”
Had CC not taken action sooner, the community could be facing a COVID-19 outbreak. However, CC administration has made decisions that have prioritized the safety of its students and its workers. The few students that are left on campus can only go to Worner Campus Center to pick up boxed lunches to take back to their dorms. And while many people had to prematurely head home and may view the campus closure as an inconvenience, the decision to move to online learning has worked. Liberty University, located in Virginia, called for students to come back in late March, and within a week had over a dozen confirmed cases of coronavirus. While it is heartbreaking for the year to end prematurely, especially for seniors, the number one priority is the safety of the community, and it appears CC administration is doing its best to keep everyone safe.