February 4, 2022 | OPINION | By Javier Cantu | Photo by Sydney Morris

I say this from personal experience with Colorado College and its Collaborative for Community Engagement (CCE). During my first two years at CC, I worked with Soil Cycle, a social enterprise within a former partner non-profit organization, Food to Power (FTP). FTP is dedicated to fighting the local food system’s inequities.

My job was to bike around northern Colorado Springs and pick up food scraps for compost from houses and small businesses. I would then deliver them to small community farms around the area who would gather volunteers to process the waste into compost. The finished product was used to grow local produce, thereby closing the food cycle. It was neat. I felt like my work was purposeful and made a meaningful contribution.

During the summer of 2020, our efforts were about to expand into establishing a composting system at the CC student-run farm. In this system, student volunteers would learn about small-scale community composting, and as a result, would begin to think about different scales of environmental action.

Yet after that fateful summer of 2020, around when things were beginning to bloom despite the circumstances, I found myself without a job. I learned that most ties with outside community-engaged partners would be cut and the funding that allowed me to have a work-study wage would be eliminated.

I was enraged. I wondered why a school that prides itself on being innovative and community-oriented showed no hesitation in making this decision. I refused to admit that the community engagement program at CC was so unstable that as soon as an emergency arose, this kind of work-study opportunity would just disappear.

Not to say that there are not any funding opportunities for more individualized projects and collaborations in place right now, but partnerships such as the CC and FTP are no longer robust. It was once a stable program in place at CC that provided an opportunity for students to engage with their direct community in an intentional and equitable manner.

This program also fostered campus collaboration by inviting the larger community to campus. It provided jobs. Post COVID-19, CC has not seen a continuation of this much needed cooperation with Food to Power, or other similar non-profit organizations.

This is, of course, expected. Pandemic safety protocols make interactions between the outside community and campus difficult. And still, the uncertainty of the pandemic continues to provide grounds for these kinds of synergies to be defunded and discontinued.

We have not found an innovative way to make this happen in our current variant-ridden context (yet). It is a vision currently and indefinitely hindered by pandemic protocols, but one that can resist and adapt to rapid change if designed and done correctly.

It only seems fair a school should equally value all departments; they should all be able to adapt, continue operations, and carry out their mission despite abnormal circumstances. Alas, that is not the way things work. After I learned that I would no longer have my job with Soil Cycle, I chose to re-shift my focus.

My time with Soil Cycle made me see the nature of the groundwork needed to carry out social change (in this case, at the community level). I now have hopes for CC to change into a place where students taking classes in the Environmental Studies program can visit the student farm, admire, and learn from this compost operation put into place by the ongoing cooperation between campus and Soil Cycle.

Undeniably, this kind of work has the potential to close the gap between the classroom and our community. There needs to be an organized body ensuring these connections are made.

Communication is integral. A program that provides a link between organizations, non-profits, and students needs to be reinstated; the opportunity it offers for academic and professional growth is invaluable.

CC must also redirect its resources and priorities. The community needs to be aware of changes, and the exact reasoning behind funding (or the discontinuation of it). We need an organized body. This could be a more aggressive version of the CCE, one that makes itself noticed with persistent and targeted marketing.

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