November 11, 2022 | NEWS | By Leigh Walden | Photo from the CC Institutional Change Now Instagram
Compared to many spots on campus, the Spencer Center doesn’t receive a lot of student visitors. Generally, students only enter to submit the paperwork to become an employee of the college or to follow up about financial aid. Last Friday, however, a group of students strode into the building with a distinct sense of purpose. The Colorado College Student Coalition for Institutional Change was there to interrupt and temporarily take over the Board of Trustees meeting.
The Board of Trustees meeting is closed to anyone not on the board, but Student Representative Vicente Blas-Taijeron ’24 invited the leaders of the student coalition who are asking for changes around mental health programming at CC. Blas-Taijeron met the group outside of the building and then advocated and insisted they be let inside the board room to share their stories and experiences of Colorado College.
After a period of back and forth the board allowed the students to share their message. Ella Fritz ’26, a legacy student at CC, started the conversion with details about her shock coming to Colorado College after hearing about its values all her life. “I came to CC because you’re supposed to stand for progress and now that I’m here…it feels like so different. What you’re saying and what you’re doing don’t match.”
Part of the disconnect for Fritz is the messaging that CC has been putting out in the wake of student deaths. As the group has gained momentum at CC, the president’s council has put out messages in response. One of those messages started with “we hear you” but for Fritz it feels like they’re not doing enough.
Sammy Ries ’23 also spoke at the board meeting. For Ries the state of mental health support at CC is of personal relevance. This fall they were set to take physical chemistry but dropped the class because they couldn’t balance it after William Perkins ’25 passed. Perkins was close to Ries and the emotional turmoil made it impossible to carry on with such a demanding course.
The day the news broke was stressful for Ries, they said, “what I had to do instead of grieving was I had to go find a way to drop my class because I can’t grieve while taking Physical Chemistry… My friends who were in that block nearly failed the course with nothing external going on…that’s not a burden students should have to carry.”
At the meeting, group leaders went on to describe specific demands that have come up to address the crisis at CC. They highlighted the need for increased student housing, more diverse counseling staff with higher capacities for students and building in one mental health day each block.
Some of the Board of Trustees seemed receptive to the demands. Multiple board members thanked the students for coming in and speaking to them on these issues. Bob Selig, who was teary eyed at the words that the students shared said, “this was maybe the most polished presentation I’ve ever heard…what I mean by that is just having students who have the guts to walk in, kind of force your way in and do this.”
Jeff Keller, president of the board later says that the students didn’t need to force their way into the meeting. He said that in the future they can schedule time within the board meeting. He didn’t give other major comments as to the contents of the student presenters.
President L.Song Richardson, although originally skeptical of letting the students into the board meeting, was sure to walk with them as they left. “I want to thank you all for coming and speaking. Please come again tomorrow for the open discussion hours… it was truly courageous to speak here” Richardson said.
Her sentiments were echoed by other members of the board that came to speak with the student leaders as they left. The board then moved immediately into executive session which only includes the executive council on the board. Blas-Taijeron and the deans are not on the executive council, and the meeting minutes for these periods are not made available to the public.
This didn’t satisfy Blas-Taijeron. He thought it would be helpful to see the board respond and talk about what the students said. However, this week’s Town Hall follow-up to the board meeting, which was supposed to take place this Monday, was rescheduled to happen after the block finishes.
The student leaders were also clear that they do not want to be sensationalized or championed; “[calling us heroes] also seems valorizing,” student leader Gracie Carrello ’25 said, “which could go in a not-fantastic direction.” The leaders don’t want save the day, but instead wish to push for true, systemic change. “This needs to become urgent for them, inconvenient for them because they have the power to actually do something,” said Ries.
Ultimately the group is hoping to reignite student interest and engagement after fall break. “There are so many students with privilege who originally showed a lot of interest…they need to become involved because this matters.” Carrello said.