LTTE: An open letter to President Joyce McConnell

Guest Author

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. Letters to the Editor reflect the view of a member of the campus community and are submitted to the publication for approval.

To Joyce McConnell and Colorado State University’s “leadership”: you may be the reason someone loses their life. It is that serious.

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We write to you today in condemnation of the rhetoric the University has directed toward our students. Amid a pandemic already associated with collectively declining mental health, you have burdened our young, developing students with preemptive guilt for deaths in our community; a guilt that rightly belongs to University leadership.

You have elected to control a pandemic by relying on the self-control of young adults returning to their dear friends for the first time in so long. Laying blame for community deaths at students’ feet is inexcusable.

When consulted, faculty voiced prominent concerns about student compliance with physical distancing measures. Research from The Committee on Improving the Health, Safety and Well-Being of Young Adults also corroborates those concerns. The committee explains that “many adolescents tend to be strongly oriented toward and sensitive to peers, responsive to their immediate environments, limited in self-control and disinclined to focus on long-term consequences, all of which lead to compromised decision-making skills in emotionally charged situations.”

When you make demands of our wonderful students to “Step up. Take responsibility,” found in your emails, you invoke a responsibility upon students that expert opinion insists they are not all yet ready to bear. You demand our students shoulder a burden they rightfully expect their leadership to protect them from. Instead of protection, you have offered our students only blame.

When you threaten your students with “consequences for non-compliance, including student conduct proceedings and possible expulsion,” you threaten to rescind the very education that might prepare them for the heavy burden you bestow upon them.

And when you move from a rhetoric of consequence to a rhetoric of brazen, overt intimidation, when you threaten your own students in the same email, saying, “Don’t risk this,” you employ a language of authoritarian aggression unbefitting of any institution that exists to serve a community, let alone a public institution for higher education. 

We hope we speak for all faculty and educators at CSU and beyond: do not threaten our students’ hope for an education to hide from your own failed attempt at leadership.

You invite students, so many for the first time, away from the familial support network they have relied upon all their lives. You insist they do not seek the solaces found in real and intimate friendships. In your email, you say that students must isolate from the friends on whose support they will be even more reliant on in such a challenging semester

“To students reading this letter, let us make some things abundantly clear: you are not murderers. Our president owes you an explanation, and our president owes you a humbled apology.”

We are not party to the financial position of CSU; however, we are party to the value of the life of each individual who has placed their profound and beautiful trust in this once-great institution. The value of each and every life held by our community is unexchangeable in the metrics of finance. No lost life can be reimbursed.

Mimi Chapman, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s chair of faculty, said, “UNC has some of the best public health, infectious disease (and) health communications folks in the country.” When its campus reopened, spread of the virus was uncontrollable. The university retreated to online learning.

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Indeed, Chapman hopes that UNC’s experience “will be a real service to the country and to other institutions like ours in how they think about these things (and) how their governing bodies think about these things.” But, President McConnell, can you hear her plea? Can you believe the words of those who have done what you are doing and failed? 

You have invited 26,400 undergraduate students back to campus, to Fort Collins, in the middle of the first global pandemic of many of our lives. As of Aug. 30, 182,149 people have been killed by COVID-19 across the United States. About 1,900 Coloradans have died due to COVID-19. Ninety-six University members have already tested positive for the virus. It is only the second week of our semester

When you insist in an email to students that “your health, the health of our faculty and staff and the health of the Fort Collins community is and will always be our top priority,” we must contest that this statement is a lie. 

To students reading this letter, let us make some things abundantly clear: you are not murderers. Our president owes you an explanation, and our president owes you a humbled apology.

We ask you, President McConnell, and all of your leadership team, to publicly respond to the concerns apportioned in this letter. Offer genuine transparency to the young adults you have invited back to our campus. Offer honesty to the families whose lives you are willing to risk. Tell us why we risked our lives this past week. Tell us why we will risk them this week. Be as brave as you ask your faculty to be; be as accountable as you demand your students to be; be as gracious and fearless as any true institution for the public ought to be.

To offer your own words back to you, President: this is our call to action. Step up, take responsibility.

Regards,

Alick McCallum, third year poetry MFA and graduate teaching assistant

Julia Oshiki, second year creative nonfiction MFA and graduate teaching assistant

Jordan Osborne, third year poetry MFA

Robin Walter, third year poetry MFA and graduate teaching assistant

Matthew Norwood-Klingstedt, writing, rhetoric and social change MA alumnus; former graduate teaching assistant

Jess Turner, third year poetry MFA and instructor

Yusnavy Ramos, third year creative nonfiction MFA candidate and graduate teaching assistant

Zachary Hazlett, third year biochemistry MS and graduate teaching assistant

Amy Young, third year visual arts MFA candidate and graduate teaching assistant

Tiffany Lingo, English education BA alumni, second year English education MA and graduate teaching assistant

Brooks Mitchell, literature MA alumna and former graduate teaching assistant

Michael Moening, second year creative nonfiction MFA and graduate teaching assistant

Grace Loveland, second year fiction MFA

Hannah Bright, third year creative nonfiction MFA and graduate teaching assistant

Leila Malekadeli, second year visual arts MFA candidate and graduate teaching assistant

Carolyn Janecek, first year poetry MFA and Programs of Research and Scholarly Excellence fellow

Hope Harbert, literature MA alumna and former Writing Center consultant

Patrick Price, third year visual arts MFA candidate

Zach Leonard, third year visual arts MFA candidate and graduate teaching assistant

Brendan Kelley, first year journalism and media communications MS, graduate teaching assistant and undergraduate alumni

Caitlin Johnson, literature MA alumna

Editor’s Note: The letter has been shortened for conciseness. The full letter can be read here.

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