By Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser
Resilience, grit and stubborn determination define us. Carving out a living in remote western Colorado has never been easy or guaranteed. While we are lucky and privileged to live here, it takes a genuine love of place to withstand the hardships common to our region—scant affordable housing, major transit disruptions, fires, floods, blizzards, drought and now a virus.
The challenges inherent to our beloved part of the world force us to innovate and adapt, to resourcefully imagine new strategies and blaze new trails. In doing so, they also deepen our commitment to our communities and to one another.
In May, shortly after graduating one of the largest classes in CMC’s history, it seemed that the fog of the pandemic was lifting. Hope was pervasive and seemingly palpable. Miracle vaccines were abundantly available even in rural communities like ours. Consequently, public health orders were lifted, masks came off, hugs and high-fives returned and tourists—many, many tourists—poured into our resort towns.
With some confidence that the worst was behind us, the team at Colorado Mountain College made a promise to our students and communities following one of the strangest and most challenging years ever: CMC will be fully open in fall 2021.
For much of the summer, this promise seemed assured; we began preparing for a “normal” fall term. We scheduled needed maintenance to residence halls, hired the largest cohort of new faculty in recent memory, launched new degree programs and adjusted our classrooms back to pre-pandemic settings. Students responded. Enrollments rebounded and our operations again hummed along with an excited, anticipatory buzz.
In recent weeks, however, our hope-filled plans were disrupted like the mudslides that closed I-70 through Glenwood Canyon. The virus mutated and returned in force, most acutely among populations unprotected by a vaccine developed by some of the greatest scientists the world has ever known. We always knew such an event was possible. We’d seen the signs and heard the warnings, but hoped all would be OK.
It’s not all OK, yet.
The resurgence may be a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” but it is indeed a real situation for the college and our communities. Though exhausted from the past 18 months, all of us at CMC are again adapting to ensure that students can return to campus and avoid disruption resulting from a viral resurgence.
We made a promise.
And, because we keep our promises, we are making real-time adjustments to launch a safe and successful fall semester. Starting the first day of classes, we will require the wearing of masks in all CMC buildings and classrooms. We hope this requirement will be temporary, as our college is starting from a position of strength. Nearly 90% of our faculty and staff have been vaccinated, which is a higher vaccination rate than in many of the communities CMC serves.
By requiring masks initially, we hope to prevent the transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant and deliver on our commitment to provide a safe educational environment. If public health conditions improve and vaccination rates increase, we will reevaluate our masking procedure. If they worsen, we will adapt to those realities as well. Either way, we will not give up on our students or our communities.
It is also important to remember that Colorado Mountain College is an open-enrollment institution. We welcome all and turn away none. Maintaining this level of access is an important part of the college’s mission and values.
We are beyond thrilled to welcome thousands of students back to CMC campuses for the fall 2021 term. We won’t see their smiles at first, but we know how much it means for these students to return to a “normal” environment.
To all of the members of CMC’s communities, and on behalf of the courageous faculty and staff and eager students starting or continuing their academic careers, thank you for supporting your local college. Please help us start this year in an orderly way, with grace, humility and kindness.
Personal choice also comes with an obligation to consider and care for others. Ultimately, we will get back to “normal” in its fullest meaning. Until then, we will keep our promise to you. CMC is open for business.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is President & CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CMCPresident.