Overcoming the anxiety of sending my child to college in 2020

Jeff Dodge, right, with his son Austin

My son is starting college at Colorado State next week, and like many parents around the country, this summer I’ve been anxious and worried.

My mind races with the same questions that others must have: What if he gets COVID-19? Is the university working – in the classrooms, residence halls, dining centers and library – to guard against an outbreak? Is it really a good idea to get thousands of kids back together on campus during a pandemic? Do we actually think they are going to wear their masks at off-campus house parties? Will CSU have to send everyone back to remote learning again?

I remember what it was like when my parents dropped me off at college, that feeling of excitement to be free but also apprehension about being on my own. In 2020, that sense of apprehension among parents and college students has only grown, thanks to the public health crisis we are enduring.

Teaching challenges

Austin’s parents, Cami and Jeff Dodge, help him move into Westfall Hall on Aug. 19. Photos by William A. Cotton

In addition to being a parent of an incoming first-year student, I’m an adjunct instructor in the Department of Journalism and Media Communication, where I teach a copy editing class. So I’ve also been wondering what it’s going to be like in my classroom, where physical distancing requirements mean that I can only have nine of my 18 students in person at any one time. Half will attend in person on Mondays, with the other half tuning in remotely, and then they’ll switch on Wednesdays. How am I going to juggle teaching those two groups of students simultaneously, sharing my screen on Zoom as questions come in from both my computer and the classroom, all while wearing a face covering?

Ben Withers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, also has his eldest son starting at CSU this month. In a July 27 email to the college’s faculty and staff, he wrote, “I think of my son and my family, and that leads me to all the other families sending us their children. They are, no less than I am, entrusting someone precious to this campus. Those students are coming to us at a vulnerable time, both in their ages and in the age we are living through. And what we are living through challenges our ability to provide the human contact, the first-person, in-person experiences that traditionally have led to these young adults’ discovery of self, their intellectual maturation, and their ability to form life-long relationships with diverse friends and mentors.”

Luckily, my full-time job is in the CSU news and communication office, so I’ve had a front-row seat for all of the discussions, planning and preparation that our staff, faculty and administrators have been involved in all summer. As the weeks have gone by and the clock has ticked down toward the start of the semester, I’ve been gradually gaining more confidence that my son — and my students — will be in good hands, no matter what happens with COVID-19.

Westfall welcome on sidewalk

Gearing up

I’ve seen the thoughtful and thorough discussions on Teams as communication leaders from around campus have hammered out details on everything from sign placement to furniture arrangement, finding answers to the dozens of questions they’ve been getting from their co-workers and supervisors. I’ve received tons of emails with resources and links to websites like the COVID-19 recovery site.

In July I got to witness the first of three summer courses where faculty were piloting new health protocols in class, with dedicated entry/exit doors, students cleaning their desks with disinfecting wipes, and the instructor lecturing to both in-person and remote students. Interviewing those faculty members and their students helped me realize that while it’s going to look and feel strange for everyone at first, it’s just going to require some flexibility, patience and adaptation. As one of those faculty members told me, we are still getting the material across; students are still learning from top experts in their field — it’s just being done a bit differently.

In recent weeks, I’ve been heartened to see articles, photos and videos about what it’s going to be like in the residence halls and dining centers, how the Morgan Library experience will be different, how contact tracing will work and how wastewater will be monitored for warning signs of an outbreak. CSU has scores of faculty, staff and students who have gotten national recognition not just for their work on a COVID-19 vaccine, but dozens of other challenges that the pandemic presents.

A dedicated community

Decorated Ram logo

The more I hear about, the more I become convinced that the CSU community has done everything in its power to make sure that our children, faculty and staff stay healthy this semester. You see, at Colorado State we like to call ourselves a “Ramily.” I’ve worked in Colorado higher education for more than 20 years — not just at CSU — and I’ve never been part of a university that has such a dedicated, authentic, welcoming and unpretentious group of employees. They are willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal, or help each other out.

So while I’m still a bit anxious and worried about what this fall will bring — as a parent, staff member and instructor — I have faith in the fact that CSU can overcome any challenges it faces, as it has done many times in its 150 years, from the “Spanish flu” of 1918 to the 1997 flood.

Rams take care of Rams. Thanks in advance for taking care of my son.