Lawmakers, head of Colorado higher ed come to campus for first day of classes

Decision-makers from Denver spent the first day of classes on the Colorado State University campus, talking to faculty, staff and students and observing health protocols in place to combat the spread of COVID-19. Photos by William A. Cotton, CSU Photography

It’s the first day of classes for Fall 2020, and face-masked students walking outside the Lory Student Center get words of encouragement from Colorado State University’s president Joyce McConnell, hosting a tour for the state’s head of higher education and local legislators.

“Thank you for wearing your mask,” President McConnell calls out time and again on this summery August afternoon.

“Students are taking it very seriously. They care deeply about our health and about public health and the community,” McConnell said as the group walked between buildings for a first-hand look at what reopening looks like in this time of coronavirus.

The group touring with President McConnell included Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and state representatives Jeni Arndt and Cathy Kipp, both of Fort Collins. State Sen. Joann Ginal of District 14, which includes Fort Collins, had joined the group for a conversation with President McConnell prior to the tour. Paccione and Ginal are both CSU grads.

“We make decisions at the Capitol that impact higher education and facilities, and unless you actually see it – see the capacity, see what the students are doing – it’s hard to make those decisions,” Paccione said. “For me, it’s critical that I can bring back this information to the people who are actually making those decisions.”

Unusual semester

In the student center, the group sees Plexiglas screens in front of students working at the information desk, signs directing foot traffic, and dozens of stations with hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes. They visit several of the student cultural centers and chat with students to get a feel for how they’re doing as the unusual semester begins.

Along with representing east Fort Collins’ House District 52, Kipp is also the mother of a student at CSU, so she has a personal and professional stake in the safety of the CSU community.

“I think that they’re doing a really great job here, but it’s the first day of school. I just want everybody to know that we’re in it for the long haul,” Kipp said. “This is not a short-term thing. This is a long-term thing and I just want everybody to keep up the good work.”

On this first day of classes, the group pokes into a lecture hall in the Clark Building where students – distanced and wearing masks – hear opening comments from the professor.

Paccione tells the class she’s a Ram too, and asks who is glad to be on campus as the semester starts – seemingly every hand goes up. She reminds them to be diligent about health precautions.  “Wear a mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands. Please, for your safety and for the safety of others, please just keep doing these things.”

Everyone must do their part

Back outside, Paccione says this is a moment that depends on everyone to do their part.

“They have a need, a social and emotional need, to connect with others their own age and it’s up to us ‘adults’ (she air-quotes) to make sure that we’re making it a safe place for them to be. And so, when you see the signage and you see the distancing and you see the masks, it gives me confidence that we are doing what we can do,” said Paccione. “I think the students are willing to be disciplined so they don’t lose this opportunity.”

At the Rec Center the group finds a relatively small number of students working out on treadmills and weight machines that have been set further apart, while other students queue outside to go in – one out, one in – because of reduced building capacity. In the Braiden Hall dining center, the visitors see more examples of the health measures that are in place on campus, and learn about the epic logistics needed to adapt dining halls to the changes.

“I was really impressed with the food service, because that is a real trick. The planning and the flexibility that takes is really amazing,” said Arndt, who represents District 53 in west Fort Collins. She says she hopes CSU community members stay diligent against the spread of the coronavirus.

“The responsibility to your community and to your institution is what’s going to keep this institution available for face-to-face instruction, and I think we can do that all together, and I’ve seen a lot of commitment to that here today,” Arndt said. “Administration, faculty, students – I think that we all care about CSU and each other, and I think when we do that we’re going to win.”