October 14, 2022 | NEWS | By Leigh Walden | Illustration by Elizabeth White
Last weekend, parents, alumni, donors, and potential students traveled to Colorado College for the annual Homecoming and Family Weekend. As CC buzzed with activity, students staged themselves across campus with the mission to elevate discussions on mental health resources at CC. Their work, which is just part of the larger organizing efforts happening on campus, aims to fundamentally change the way CC operates.
Some students at CC are coming to acknowledge that the mental health resources are insufficient, and believe that, as an institution, CC is responsible for a culture that is inconducive to mental wellness.
These discussions have branched out of many previous student movements but have gained new momentum with the recent tragedy at the beginning of Block Two. This loss, which has had a significant impact on the entire campus community, is the third student death in the past four blocks at CC.
A new collective of student organizers is requesting immediate change. Their demands stem from those put out in the spring of last year and highlight several areas where CC and its scheduling can do better. Among them – a penalty free mental health day for students in any block and establishing boundaries for classroom assignments and expectations.
Kat Falacienski ’25, a leader from the collective, got involved with the group as a result of her association with the CC Disability Alliance. “We didn’t have the specific idea for what we’d end up doing laid out yet, it was more just to vent, but eventually we landed on a version of a disorientation guide,” Falacienski said. The collective’s first rendition of a disorientation guide, meant to counter official CC advertising, highlights the circumstances students are facing at CC.
Over Family Weekend, students posted themselves around campus at high traffic places and passed out fliers to parents and alumni alike. These fliers contain four statistics on the conditions of student life on campus, including information on student death, sexual assault, thoughts on suicide, and lack of administrative response. Nonprivileged data used to gather some of these statistics comes from the 2018 revision of CC’s Wellness Resource Center Strategic Plan.
According to Falacienski, this is only the start of a larger movement to get CC to change. “We’re going to start planning our next actions,” she said. “They’re not solidified yet.” So far, students have proposed ideas like peer counseling services and that insisting professors, like students, take time off from class without needing a doctor’s note.
There are hesitations for some organizers as to how much they want to involve the administration on this work. Some students feel like collaborating with what they understand to be the antagonizing or at least complicit party would undermine the larger movement and goals. “There is a lot of resistance within the group, understandably, for any collaboration with administration,” said Falacienski.
The organizing happening around mental health resources on campus is not restricted only to students; certain faculty members are stepping in to create better conditions within their classes in the absence of institution-wide change. Chantal Figueroa, a sociology professor at CC, is one of the faculty members taking demands from students and instigating change.
Figueroa’s class model, even before the larger organizing movements at CC, made room for students to rest and reflect. Usually there are days built into her syllabus without class and without work to do outside of class.
“I teach about very intense topics – my research is mostly focused on gender violence and state terror and psychological violence,” Figueroa said. “In 2018 I did mental health research with students…I realized I wasn’t the only one having trouble with the Block Plan. There are a certain number of fallacies associated with the block.”
Among those fallacies, she found, are the ideas that the Block Plan is flexible, that it equals a semester, and the notion that students don’t have anything to do outside of class during the block. Some faculty members are starting to name and take power away from these fallacies by changing their classroom environments.
Best practices, conversations, and pledges regarding the health of students may come from more faculty in the near future. For now, Figueroa says, “At CC…students are very afraid to be wrong, to say the wrong thing, but that is never going to result in change. Change requires collaboration which is messy, which is incomplete, which is imperfect, and we have to be used to, to be okay with, being vulnerable.