Social Activism on Campus in the Age of COVID-19

By Molly Seaman ’21

CC boasts over 80 active student organizations, and a significant fraction are geared toward effecting positive social change within the CC community, the greater Colorado Springs area, and/or beyond. Social distancing and other health protocols related to COVID-19 have dramatically affected life on college campuses around the globe for over a year now, but social activists within the student body at Colorado College haven’t let the circumstances halt their work. 

The Collaborative for Community Engagement facilitates collaboration between students, staff, faculty, and community organizations who are trying to address local issues. Elena Martinez-Vivot ’21 works with the CCE to bolster the work she does with CCVotes and the Political Advocacy Coalition. She says, “The CCE has been incredibly supportive of all of the initiatives I’ve proposed. One of the things I love about CC being such a small campus is that there’s less bureaucracy and it’s easier to gain access to resources for student initiatives.” 

Martinez-Vivot explains that the motivation behind her tenacious social activism lies in her passion for increasing voter turnout. “I have worked to ensure that CC students have every resource necessary to vote. The Political Advocacy Coalition has worked to connect CC students with the broader politics of Colorado Springs and trying to engage students in local issues. I think the coolest thing we were able to do was to host a debate for the 2019 City Council elections, which involved a collaboration between CC, UCCS, PPCC, and the CS Indy.”

Nate Hochman ’21 is a Young Voices associate contributor, a Conservative Fellow at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and a former editorial intern at National Review and The Dispatch. His writing has been published in National ReviewCity JournalThe DispatchThe Washington ExaminerThe Washington TimesQuilletteThe American ConservativeTownhallThe Orange County RegisterThe Colorado Springs GazetteIntercollegiate Review, and other outlets. He has appeared on various television shows, podcasts, and radio programs such as Fox 5 DC, the First Things podcast, Matt Lewis and the News, and the Acton Line. 

At CC, Hochman is the co-chair of the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council and the founder and editor-in-chief of Athwart Magazine, a new student-run political magazine. When asked how he works within the CC community to effect positive change, Hochman says, “I aim to elevate voices that aren’t generally heard at CC, specifically those who align with the political right. A liberal arts education should be a rich exchange of a variety of ideas.” 

“I want to make the significant body of students who have felt left out of the community at CC feel like they have a place here too, that they can and should be comfortable voicing any ideas in a respectful manner. I think empowering these students to speak up benefits the entire community at CC because a significant number of Americans have these beliefs. Even if students disagree with these ideas, it’s important to be able to have informed debates.”

Filip Čarnogurský ’23 is a Bonner Fellow, which means that he was selected for a four-year cohort-based opportunity designed to support student leaders from underrepresented backgrounds with their endeavors to transform communities. His status as a fellow means that he also works closely with the CCE.

“I am very fortunate to be a Bonner Fellow through the CCE. We are supported by very knowledgeable staff who are eager to help with any question we ask them. We participate in useful educational workshops and on top of all of this, we can work on social change without being too worried about the financial aspect. Many of us come from weaker socio-economic backgrounds and we receive a stipend that allows us to work on issues that we care about instead of working for the sole purpose of making ends meet. Then there are summer grants, research grants, fellowships and so many opportunities that allow us to focus on what we are interested in, which I see as a privilege most people do not have (or I did not have before I came to CC).”

Čarnogurský is heavily involved in environmental activism both on and off campus; he participates in various student groups, such as the Sunrise Movement and EnAct, and Environment Colorado, with whom he helped organize the protest against Senator Gardner’s inaction on climate change. 

Čarnogurský is especially passionate about his role at the Sierra Club, which has been spearheading environmental action in Colorado Springs for many years. He states, “Last year, a Sierra Club member and CC alum, Lindsay Facknitz, came to CC to speak about how we can shut down coal power plants. It felt so empowering. Never before did I feel capable of closing an entire power plant. After observing all the invitations to voice my own opinion about the decision-making process during this talk, I felt capable of enacting change. There were at least 20 people at the talk, many of whom worked on the transition to renewable energy in the subsequent months. After a long and tedious campaign, we succeeded! The local powerplants are now set to be closed many years earlier than they were initially planned. This is one of the most prominent examples of why I think the Sierra Club is integral to local environmental activism.”

When asked to define “social activism,” Čarnogurský spoke about how working toward similar causes can create community. “I often feel anxious about the social upheaval waiting for us due to global warming. However, organizing around this issue means meeting people with the same fears, interests, and passions, which changes the game. Sharing these fears with a community of like-minded and inspiring people makes my worries more manageable. On top of that, we really do contribute to solving it! In Slovakia, we say ‘Shared happiness is always greater and shared fear is always smaller.’ This saying is the backbone of social activism.” 

Maddi Schink ’23 is also a Bonner Fellow. She uses the resources provided by the fellowship to work with a student-run service organization housed by the CCE called BreakOut. She explains, “Our work is community-facing and, especially before COVID, involved students getting beyond the CC bubble and out into Colorado Springs on Saturdays and over block breaks in order to support organizations who are already greatly impacting our community.”

“From the Marian House Soup Kitchen to Concrete Couch, the Catamount Institute, and Food to Power, CC students have been able to use BreakOut as an introduction to a variety of issue areas and as an ‘on-ramp’ for further community engagement. Despite the short-term nature of BreakOut trips, this program really allows students to develop more sustainable and meaningful relationships with local partners.”

The Colorado College Student Government Association (CCSGA) works with the CCE to fund BreakOut. Schinkexpresses gratitude for the CCSGA’s funding, as it provides the organization with the resources for transportation and for materials they can use to support community partners. “Just a few weeks ago, BreakOut was able to purchase materials for and assemble over 100 Easter care packages for the Springs Rescue Mission. This is great because the resources we have available to us as a club — and the wealth of CC more broadly — are able to be redistributed throughout the Colorado Springs community.”

Caitlin Blinkhorn ’22 was elected co-president of GlobeMed after designing fundraisers with the e-board team that each raised approximately $600 for organizations that help support those living with HIV/AIDS. She is fervently passionate about GlobeMed, and she is grateful that the organization allowed her to pursue her interest in global health during college despite the fact that the credits required for her Neuroscience major prevented her from taking classes in this subject.

Blinkhorn also mentions that working with GlobeMed through CC’s provides a plethora of opportunities: “We are a unique chapter because we are at a small school. GlobeMed is an international organization, but we have both a community partner and an international partner. Our community partner is Meadows Park Community Center, and we’ve had a really good relationship with that group for several years now. We also have a very strong relationship with WOPLAH, which is the Western Organization for People Living With HIV/AIDS.”

When asked about how GlobeMed has been operating during the pandemic, Blinkhorn attributes the continued success of the organization to her teammates.

“I’m so proud of all of our members. One individual, Maddi Schink, has been going to the Meadows Park Community Center each week as a representative for all of us. Usually we go as a group every Friday and we talk and do some fun activity with the kids. Due to the challenges posed by doing that in person this year, Maddi has been really great with making take-home science kits and really trying to engage the kids despite the circumstances.”