'Hitting us hard': Bridge Scholar students draft a petition of demands after sudden move online

Plus, how CC's college transition program is adjusting to virtual classes and mentoring

Good morning, and happy Wednesday. On this pre-pandemic date last year, locals were gathering in Colorado Springs for “Fiddles, Vittles and Vino,” a bluegrass and culinary arts festival. (Organizers have cancelled this year’s event, though they plan to “regroup, and aim for the stars for 2021,” according to their website.)

Today, our daily newsletter focuses on the Bridge Scholar program: the college’s decision to move it entirely online, how Bridge students are advocating for themselves through a petition, responses from the administration, and how the Bridge program is adjusting to a remote format.

➡️ICYMI: Yesterday, we explained the four course modes Colorado College classes will use this year, and we talked to three CC student government leaders about their work this summer and their plans for the fall. 

🎥WATCH: Wondering what K-12 classrooms will look like in the fall? Check out this video from Colorado Springs fifth-grade teacher Katie O’Connor. “My goal is to show people — especially parents — just what going back to in-person school will look like so you can make an informed decision for your family,” she wrote on Facebook.

Shortly before move-in, a major program abruptly announced it would go virtual. Then this happened.

Less than two weeks before students would begin arriving on the Colorado College campus for the Bridge Scholars program, an unexpected email from acting co-presidents Mike Edmonds and Robert Moore started hitting inboxes. 

“Because national and local cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations associated with it have sharply increased, to reduce risk we are postponing the arrival of students who were originally scheduled to come to campus in very early August,” it read. “This includes Bridge Scholars, resident advisors, international students, and New Student Orientation and Priddy Trip leaders.”

The email stated that those students were now scheduled to arrive on campus starting Aug. 9, though there could be “further adjustments” as the college continues to monitor COVID-19 risks. The Bridge Scholars program, a yearlong initiative that invites some first-years such as first-generation students to campus early for a two-week course, would take place entirely online, starting on the originally scheduled date of Aug. 3.

Before the day was over, this year’s cohort of Bridge Scholars, made up of roughly 130 students, sprang into action. A group of them quickly drafted and publicized a petition that carried a list of demands. Nearly 600 members of the CC community had signed on by July 24.

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project interviewed John Le ’24, one of the incoming Bridge Scholars who helped create the petition, as well as Bridge Scholars Program Director Emily Chan. We wanted to know about the origins of the petition, the administration’s response to it, and what Bridge Scholars can now expect when the program kicks off Aug. 3. 

‘A lot of emotions’: Inside the petition

The Bridge Scholars received the news at roughly the same time as the rest of the CC community. In addition to the email, the information hit the CC website, which is where some Bridge Scholars saw it first. 

“There are a lot of emotions coming around, especially with the low-income community, because we haven’t even been on campus yet,” says incoming first-year and Bridge Scholar John Le ’24. “It’s really hitting us hard now, but we’re still trying to stay optimistic.” 

The process for creating the petition was “pretty impulsive,” he says. Bridge Scholars have a group chat where some of them talk regularly. Some members of the 2020 Bridge Scholar cohort got on Zoom, and they began drafting emails and crafting the petition together in a GoogleDoc. 

In their petition, the students explain how a deferral of early arrivals has particularly had significant financial and emotional impacts on the program’s low-income students, highlighting especially how the decision came less than two weeks before the scheduled move-in. The petition’s four core demands:

  1. Distribute funds or issue a refund check to offset the costs of needing to change bookings for flights and hotel rooms. 

  2. Adjust the stipend to give the students security of funds.

  3. Provide housing for those who need it.

  4. Be transparent about new updates.

“I know we’re only incoming freshmen, but I felt like it was important just to advocate for ourselves,” Le tells The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. “Especially because it’s a very new environment for us.”

‘We have caused a loss’: The Response

Bridge Scholars Program Director Emily Chan sent an email Thursday afternoon to address some of the initial concerns.

“Co-presidents Edmonds and Moore and their leadership team came to this very difficult decision to delay all scheduled early arrivals because of the uptick of COVID-19 in El Paso County and Colorado,” she wrote.

Here’s how administrators responded to some of the petition’s demands:

  1. Bridge students who experienced financial ramifications from the delay were encouraged to submit a request for assistance from the CC COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. This includes Bridge Scholars who were charged to change their flights or to cancel lodging.

  2. The college is not increasing the stipend amount, but will still distribute $400 to each Bridge Scholar upon completion of the program. Additionally, Chan says the Bridge program will continue to provide food for students until the fall meal plan kicks in.

  3. Bridge students who face housing insecurity can request a housing exemption to arrive on campus earlier than the regular move-in window by emailing Assistant to the Vice President Zak Kroger.

In her email, Chan also encouraged students who feel comfortable doing so to schedule appointments with the Counseling Center, who are currently still offering free sessions. 

“There’s a psychological level of security and trauma that if you think about all the 12th graders ever since March, they never got the senior year that they planned,” Chan said in a recent Zoom interview. “And,” she added, “in this moment of grieving the loss of all these experiences, we kind of create another loss. We have caused a loss in how you imagine college to start.”

Chan says the petition’s fourth point, a request for increased transparency, is something the college tried to address in a recent Town Hall, which Chan and four other administrators hosted on Friday afternoon for Bridge students and their families. During the Town Hall, Vice Provost Pedro de Araujo acknowledged the frustration and mentioned plans to continue holding town halls and updating FAQ pages as decisions are made. The challenge, he said, was how quickly changes in the pandemic can disrupt existing plans.

“Things are changing as we’re making announcements, and so it becomes incredibly difficult,” de Araujo said during the Town Hall. “Now, this is not an excuse, right. Could [we] have done better in terms of communication? Of course we could. I think every institution could. We are still learning.”

Still, some students would like the college to further increase transparency surrounding decisions and planning during the pandemic. 

“They have gotten back to us about the first three demands about the stipends, stuff like that, but number four, I don’t think it’s been adequately addressed yet, mainly because we still have not seen more transparency,” Le says. “I’m still very adamant ... about how CC needs to be more transparent with its students with regard to COVID-19 planning.”

‘We are adapting’: The Program

All six co-taught Bridge Program courses will take place virtually, with a number of asynchronous elements. 

Chan is co-teaching “Gen You — Using Numbers to Investigate and Understand Your Peers and the Social World of Gen Z” along with Quantitative Reasoning Center Director Steve Getty. She is planning to use Hypothesis, a software that allows her to pose questions on a document for students as they are reading, and they can reply instantly, thus starting a conversation even before class begins. They will also bring librarians and members of the Writing Center into Zoom classes in place of class visits to Tutt Library. 

The college has cancelled some Bridge events, such as a Harry Potter movie screening that was for a “Witchcraft, Magic, and the Supernatural in History and Popular Culture” class but anyone could have attended.

Instead of in-person mentoring sessions that would usually take place during the Bridge Scholar Program, the Bridge Mentors are planning to use DoorDash coupons to order a meal for each student so they can all eat at the same time and have an opportunity to ask questions and get advice. 

The Bridge Program is a yearlong experience, and when students arrive on campus, they will still get to meet the professors and staff with whom they virtually worked. Other Bridge events, including the financial literacy program and leader trainings with Outdoor Education, will continue throughout the academic year. 

“The reality is that there’s no reason to feel good about it,” Chan says about the delay in arrivals. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. It sucks. And we are adapting, and we are glad to see the students coming together as community to elevate the voice and the needs.”

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

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