At Colorado College, we focus a lot on developing a “sense of place.” We are one of the few liberal arts schools in the Rocky Mountain West, and the Block Plan allows us to travel it with our classes and over breaks for days, even weeks, at a time. The administration likes to tout this when selling the college to prospective students, as they should. They do an objectively good job of providing ample opportunities for students to explore our region. But amidst all of the talk of sense of place and our unique location, I think that we have neglected the city of Colorado Springs.
In many ways, Colorado Springs is not sexy. It doesn’t have an arts district, much of a music scene, great food options, or just overall, many of the things that have caused young people to flock to San Francisco, Denver, Brooklyn, N.Y., and other hip places in recent years. But it does have fascinating local politics, a burgeoning array of impressive activist groups, and some pretty great parks. More importantly, it—not the mountains, the canyons, or Santa Fe, N.M.—is our home for our four years at CC.
To the administration’s credit, they have recently made an effort to get CC students more involved in Colorado Springs. They recognize that CC is a bubble, and that in order to burst that bubble we need to forge partnerships with various community groups and leaders. To that end, they have invested in the Collaborative for Community Engagement, which has developed a multitude of avenues for students to get involved in local issues through community service and other forms of engagement. But there still seems to be a pervasive attitude among students that Colorado Springs is uninteresting, and if you’re not on campus you should probably be in the mountains, Denver, Santa Fe, N.M., or anywhere except for the Springs.
I’ll admit, it’s a tricky problem to solve; the mountains are really cool, and everything we really need, especially if we’re on the meal plan, is on campus. But I’d like to propose a modest solution, one that certainly wouldn’t be a silver bullet but might make a difference.
The best place to start, I think, is at the beginning. This year, first-year students did community service for two days and explored their surroundings for one day on well over 40 Priddy Trips, which traveled across Colorado, New Mexico, and even a little of Texas. Many of these trips were backcountry—or wilderness—oriented in some way. At least eight trips were in cities with a decidedly urban focus, including five in Santa Fe, but none were in Colorado Springs, unless you count Cheyenne Canyon or Pikes Peak.
In order to get students more involved in Colorado Springs, why not have at least one or two Priddy Trips stay to do community service work and recreate here? I think the answer is that people think it would be boring and lame to just stay put; that when all the first-years walk around and ask each other where they went, no one wants to be the kid that says, “Oh, I just stayed here.” But that’s exactly the attitude we’re trying to combat. Having one or two trips stay would at least send the message that this is a cool city and students should explore it.
Moreover, I think it is possible to design a Priddy Trip or two in Colorado Springs that would be interesting and fun, so that then when the first-years walk around and talk about their Priddy Trips, some would say, “Oh, yeah, I just stayed in Colorado Springs. It was super cool though, let me tell you all about it.” I know people don’t actually talk that way, but you get the point.
There are campgrounds in Colorado Springs; so these trips would still be able to camp—it would be just like any other Priddy Trip. It would just add another, much needed layer to the concept of sense of place. It would affirm that, while the Rocky Mountains are beautiful and skiing is fun, this city is our home and we can’t have a true sense of place until we begin to understand and love its many wonderful idiosyncrasies.