If you’re looking for continuity in your college experience, Colorado College is probably not the right choice. Classes, schedules, and even the weather all change at a sometimes dizzying pace. But in my first two years here, one thing that has been constant is controversy.
Between Rail Jam, the three-year on campus living requirement, various high-profile racist incidents, the New York Times article on collegiate socioeconomic diversity, and the West in Time requirement—to name a few—the past two years have been filled with contentious debate. At first glance, these issues might seem disparate, subject not to any overarching theme or continuing debate but rather the whims of the student body, fluctuations in the news cycle, and major incidents. But in reality, these debates do share a common theme—they are all fundamentally debates over the priorities of Colorado College—and that is why they’ve been so hotly contested. So in this piece, I’d like to outline what I think our school’s priorities should be, and in what way we stray from those, through the lens of these contentious issues.
Like it or not, skiing is a major part of CC culture. On any given winter Saturday at Breckenridge Ski Resort, CC students are bound to run into each other, and proximity to ski spots was, no doubt, a major factor in many students’ decision to go here. Rail Jam is in many ways a celebration of this culture, and so the debate over Rail Jam is often framed as one between those who participate in ski culture and those who don’t.
We should embrace our outdoor culture but still do everything we can to make sure that the outdoors are accessible to everyone. The issue with Rail Jam is that while anyone can go watch, it’s really a celebration of supremely experienced skiers and doesn’t do anything to enable more people to participate in the sport.
This critique can be applied to the Outdoor Recreation Committee as well. While I’m not familiar with the intricacies of their budget, and while they do offer a number of programs that subsidize beginner trips into the outdoors, I believe there is too much of a focus on financing and supporting the extreme elements of winter sports and outdoor exploration—take, for example, the recent ORC paragliding trip over spring break. To the extent that both the ORC and ski culture make increasing accessibility to the outdoors their primary priority, they will be valuable additions to Colorado College.
The most recent and alarming campus controversy was, of course, the violent white supremacist email sent to nearly a thousand CC students over spring break. In the wake of the email, the Black Student Union wrote a letter to the administration outlining the changes they think would help make Colorado College a more racially inclusive place.
Faculty have since voted to get rid of the West in Time requirement, and though I suspect that was in the works for a while, it was definitely a step in the right direction in terms of making CC an actively anti-racist institution. But the administration has yet to put its money where its mouth is in a number of ways.
The Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies Program still doesn’t have a real office or home in an academic building, which is just one symptom of the lack of respect the department is given. Also, CC’s student body is very white and I find it hard to believe that the administration is actually doing everything in its power to make the school more diverse.
Which brings us to the question of socioeconomics and financial aid. Last year, a New York Times article ranked Colorado College as the second least socioeconomically diverse school in the nation. Also last year, the college announced a new three-year on-campus residency requirement, raising the cost of food and housing for many juniors who previously could have lived off campus and been off the meal plan, thus reducing the cost of living at a school with an already hefty price tag.
The administration would argue that we are on a path to becoming need-blind, but that in order to get there we first have to grow the endowment, which we can only do by increasing the prestige of the school to encourage alumni donation. They would likely to point to Vassar College—which put so much emphasis on financial aid that it has serious economic problems—as an example of why the issue of financial aid is not so simple. However, there is a middle ground between Vassar and CC, and we could be spending more money on financial aid—it just has to become a top priority.
Colorado College serves a primarily white and wealthy population. It has made attempts to change that, but those changes have been marginal, and usually only go as far as they can without butting up against the interests of that white, wealthy student body.
If we truly want to change this school, we will have to change our priorities. As students, we’ll have to make it clear to the administration that we’re willing to forego our more extravagant amenities if it means increasing our financial aid budget. We’ll need to have frank discussions about CC traditions and to what extent they perpetuate exclusivity. And when we become alumni, we’ll have to use our donating power to pressure the school into making accessibility a top priority.
All of this is eminently possible, but none of it will happen unless we change the way we look at the college’s values and priorities.