HOW TO TALK WITH KIDS ABOUT RACISM

THE POLICE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD THRUST THE REALITIES OF RACISM INTO HOMES ACROSS AMERICA. EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION EXPERT ROSEMARIE ALLEN PROVIDES GUIDANCE FOR STARTING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE WITH KIDS OF ALL AGES.

June 10, 2020

By Siet Wright

Start young

Rosemarie Allen, Ed.D.: It’s important to start talking about race early. Children categorize differences from as young as 2 years old, and it’s OK to discuss and celebrate those differences. If we don’t guide these categorizations with our children, they will fill the void with their own conclusions. Preschool-age children should be encouraged to discuss differences in a casual and neutral way.

Studies show that when parents talk about race with their kids, the children don’t internalize race but develop a strong racial identity. For that reason, black children have a more positive race-relations outlook than white children.


Learn what they know

RA: As parents, our job is to give children a vehicle for their feelings and trust what our children feel. Let them talk about their observations of current events and ask them questions. Ask if they have noticed that people on TV are upset and angry. Ask if they know why. Tell them it’s because not all people have been treated fairly and that some people are protesting and marching because of unfair treatment, especially black people.

Expand the conversation as children grow

RA: Talking with your children about race is critical at every age, and you give them more information as they mature because they are seeing more. From ages 2-6, we can talk about differences and fairness, but by age 7 they begin to better understand justice and consequences. By 11, you can teach them that they can do something about it, that it’s their job to stop it when they see it. Middle-school kids are learning about intervention and what they can do to change the system for social justice.


Recognize that every family’s conversation is different

RA: There is a saying in black communities: “At what age do I break my child’s heart?” It begins the moment they experience or see something racist, and that is sometimes very young. We make great efforts to ensure our children’s safety with scripts about what to say when confronted by police; we tell them not to put their hands in their pockets, that when they go to the store, they need to get a bag and a receipt every time.

These are the experiences of black families and people of color that differ from white experiences.

When discussing systemic racism with white children, ask them if it’s fair that black people are treated this way and if they would like to be treated this way. Tell them it’s OK to be angry about unfair treatment but when they see something happen like that, they should speak up about it and say, “That’s not fair!” Teaching children social justice from a very early age is happening now in classrooms across the country.

Emphasize empathy, understand anger

RA: Ask your child how they would feel if they were treated unfairly because of their complexion, hair or eye color. Ask, “Is that fair? How would you feel?” You don’t want them feeling sorry for someone but to feel anger and want to do something about it. Anger can be an action for positive change.


Nobody is colorblind

RA: It’s a fallacy to suggest that people don’t see race. There is an unconscious bias that we all have. While it lies outside of our consciousness, we have to do the work to bring it to the conscious level. Call out the obvious, that everyone sees race and it’s OK to notice that. What matters is that you are aware of your response afterward. What comes up for you when you notice someone’s race? You can choose how to shape your response.

I always tell my students, “Aware is halfway there.” I challenge them to “notice and wonder why.” When they respond to a person that they perceive to be different, they should notice their own behavior and wonder why they are responding that way. Once we are aware of our bias, our responses to that and what triggers our biases, we are better able to decrease and eventually eliminate the bias.

Some people take comfort in claiming not to see race, but that makes them not responsible for their actions or feelings. But you see race. Celebrate differences and tell your children, “Everyone is beautiful and different, and we all have a right to be treated with fairness.”

‘LIQUID GOLD’ STANDARD

EXPERTISE IN WATER POLICY AND LAW ARE MORE VALUABLE THAN EVER. HERE’S WHY AN ONLINE WATER CERTIFICATE FOCUSED ON COLORADO’S UNIQUE LAWS IS DRAWING PROFESSIONALS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

Clear Creek along I-70 in Idaho Springs

June 25, 2020

By Siet Wright

An 1859 gold rush drew scores of thousands of prospectors to what is today Colorado, where they formed mining camps along the rivers draining out of the Rocky Mountains.

The legacy of those camps isn’t just the cities and towns we know today – Denver, Boulder, Black Hawk and Georgetown all started as riverside mining camps – but also statehood in 1876 and the unique water laws enshrined in Colorado’s Constitution.

While the Eastern states based their water laws on riparian rights – a system for allocating water among those who owned land along rivers – Colorado’s water laws gave rights to the first party to divert water from a stream and use it for a beneficial use under a system known as prior appropriation.

More than 160 years after prospectors first applied prior appropriation along the banks of Cherry, Clear and Ralston Creeks, interest in the Front Range’s waterways is again piqued. But now, rather than mining precious minerals, working professionals from across the country are studying Colorado’s unique water laws through Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Water Studies Certificate, the only self-paced, online water certificate focused on the Rocky Mountain West.

“Demand for freshwater in our expanding population and warming world makes water the new liquid gold,” said Tom Cech, co-director of MSU Denver’s One World One Water Center. “That makes expertise in water policy and law more valuable than ever.”


RELATED: Here’s what Colorado’s snowpack means for rivers, reservoirs and wildfire risks


The certificate launched in 2017 and is designed to be flexible and accessible to professionals in myriad fields because it can be completed in an online environment, Cech said.

“People take these courses from every industry imaginable,” he said. “From brewing, agriculture, history, law, political sciences, sociology and many more professions and academic backgrounds.”

The certificate has also drawn interest from people on water commissions, government officials and municipalities across the West because laws in Colorado impact users downstream.

The Cherry Creek flows through Denver. Above: Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. Photos by Sara Hertwig
The Cherry Creek flows through Denver. Above: Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. Photos by Sara Hertwig

Castle Rock Water Commissioner Amy Blackwell earned the certificate to gain a firmer grasp on water law and issues at the state and national levels. Incoming commissioners receive an orientation on community and regional water operations, but the larger context is critical, she said.

“The water-studies program provides a deep dive on (state and national issues) and is a valuable resource,” she said.

Among the classes offered is the Colorado Water History course taught by MSU Denver Professor Matt Makley, Ph.D. It examines water in relation to the people who have lived here and how Colorado’s prior-appropriation laws came to be in their current form.

“Water is the topic for our time, for where we are in the human experience,” he said.


RELATED: Here’s how Gen Z is using hip-hop to fight for the environment


The online certificate is offered through MSU Denver’s Innovative and Lifelong Learning to meet growing demand for noncredit credentials in the water field. It’s aimed at professionals who want to increase their skill set and marketability in changing and challenging times, said Marketing Manager Kerra Jones.

Another driver of enrollment, she said, is the need for knowledge of water law and policy amid changes wrought by climate change.

“Climate change will significantly impact our freshwater resources throughout the world,” Jones said. “In the American West, over 40 million people depend on the Colorado River. Water is a finite resource in a changing world with an ever-growing population.”

While the certificate is designed for online learning, Nona Shipman, Hope Bartlett and Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd of the OWOW Center have expanded video learning to new levels in the wake of closures caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. In March, the OWOW Center launched TomTalks YouTube videos where Colorado water issues are discussed to keep the water community connected with OWOW activities.

This program includes conversations with water professionals, MSU Denver faculty members and international partners. It’s a way to continue the important water conversations of our time. Numerous outside groups have picked up the TomTalks to expand the reach of the new outreach effort.

All of these activities, with partners from all over the world, are again converging on Colorado, but instead of gold, our new collaborators are seeking water knowledge, a legacy that has been expanding since the initial gold rush of 1859. MSU Denver’s history, with its location on the Auraria Campus and the creation of the One World One Water Center, continues the legacy of exploration and innovation in Colorado and the West.

Pandemic and Protests PTSD

July 6, 2020

Trauma is a deeply disturbing experience that can re-occur over a lifetime if untreated.

By Carol Covington and Siet Wright

The legacy of trauma is historic. The tools of resilience have been fortified by the passage of time. The COVID-19 pandemic and the current racial unrest are unlike anything many have experienced before.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, terrible accidents and violent personal assault. In many cases, PTSD is a generational trauma that a person is born into.

The COVID-19 pandemic may cause a fear response in people with PTSD that triggers the distress of fear of losing loved ones, dying themselves and simple fear of the unknown.

Lines of people at stores hoarding basic necessities such as food and toilet paper increases the anxiety a person may feel if they are unable to stock up on these supplies. Increasing death-tolls, social distancing and economic peril contributes to PTSD symptoms that may cause an inability to cope, leading a person to unhealthy substance abuse, violence or self-harm.  

For people born with the generational trauma inherited from their parents and grandparents of racial disparity, poverty, violence or scarcity; the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests added to the already ever-present PTSD symptoms. For those people born with generational trauma, there is no beginning and no end. Their real-life experiences have grafted a sort-of hopelessness from being constantly exposed to trauma. This means their reactive response to trauma is always on, creating many layers of trauma that can be overwhelming to deal with.

PTSD is not something easily treated. There is no pill or quick-fix remedy for a life of trauma. What took a lifetime to create, it takes a lifetime to treat.

Brian Bagwell, Psy.D is a professor in the Human Services and Counseling department at MSU Denver and is the coordinator of the Fire and Emergency Response Administration program. Dr. Bagwell spent time providing psychological care to the New York City Police Department following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He teaches a course on Trauma and Resilience at MSU Denver.

“Because the COVID-19 pandemic and the external elements which may trigger the compound and complex impact on those with PTSD,” Bagwell said. “The variables are out of our control and how you modify your life will determine the degree of how it affects you.”

He suggests stepping away from the news and social media outlets where the triggering barrage of violence is more graphic. With many therapists conducting sessions online, care is readily available to those with internet access. He also suggests re-connecting with your support network of family and friends. It’s critical in this time to find comfort in loved ones and stay connected.

Coping with trauma is a lifelong endeavor and being able to confront that fear and pain takes many various tools and forms.

Meditation, therapy and activism are some of the ways that people can cope with PTSD symptoms. Talking with people who have suffered from similar traumas can be an ongoing treatment that helps to alleviate anxiety. Meditation can calm the mind from unsettling memories.

In her Meditation and Activism class, Professor Anahi Russo Garrido, Ph.D., teaches different forms of meditation to allow individuals to confront and deal with PTSD symptoms and manage stress. She believes that using meditation and activism helps to empower people that have suffered from traumatic experiences by offering methods to use the negative for a positive outcome.

“As one engages with difficult, infuriating, painful and long-term historical issues that require all of our attention and time,” said Russo Garrido. “It is key to make a space for contemplative moments. Meditation can be a tool, which offers this space.”

Meditation may offer a space to grieve and sit with one’s feelings. It may provide the clarity to re-energize and keep going. This can give a person a chance to make decisions with intention instead of acting from a place of fear.

86-year-old Metropolitan State University of Denver alumna Annie Redmond, B.A. Sociology ’75 is a historian and expert in trauma. Her earliest memories of racism were in her primary years while walking the long path to school. The school bus would slow down as it passed Annie and the other black children so the white kids inside could spit and curse at them. She knew that education would be her salvation, but life put many detours in her path.

The tragedy of current events triggered long buried trauma from her past, as she recalled the murder of her uncle in 1951, when she was 17 years old. He was accused of making inappropriate contact with a white woman and was shot in the back. That trauma is reactivated every time she hears reports in the news of another young black man killed. Redmond believes that the COVID-19 pandemic and the current racial unrest is unlike any she has experienced.

Redmond has faith that there is going to be a change. The call to action is a call she has heard before. Present in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and political positioning of the Black Panther Party, she has made a declaration of her own prediction. Things are changing and this is a different time.

“This is something totally different,” she says. “People on every corner of the world are standing up and saying enough is enough.”

AHEC Counseling Center offers services to help combat post-traumatic stress disorder such as crisis intervention, individual counseling, support groups, addiction services and a free online assessment. The Counseling Center also offers a list of mental health apps to help keep track of PTSD symptoms and learn methods of managing treatment.

Relying on Delivery Apps in Quarantine and Beyond

When people return to work, delivery services may become critical as social distancing standards remain in place. 

By Siet Wright

During the coronavirus pandemic, people have learned to rely on delivery apps to meet their needs while at home. Ensuring personal safety has become a top priority and apps have played an important role in that peace of mind. Online versions exist for nearly everything now. One can get an education online, talk to a therapist, attend a virtual fitness class, attend meetings, shop and more. In the information age, people with means can stay safely home, and allow companies to deliver goods and services in a safe manner. When-stay at-home mandates are lifted, will people still need to rely on these services to feel safe?

State governments are deciding when to slowly start resuming business as usual, but that may cause a second spike in COVID-19 infections. Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has warned the media that rushing back to normal life could be disastrous for public health. Flattening the curve is an on-going process that will need longer than a month to work. For some people, the economy cannot handle a continuation of closed businesses. For other people, it is far too soon to consider re-opening businesses right when social distancing practices were beginning to work.

Will there be a return to normal?

A recent Harvard study shows that with current efforts, social distancing may need to continue through 2022. This means people will need to re-think what business as usual means. In the rush to return to normal, people may be forgetting there might not be anything normal soon.

According to The Harvard Crimson, researchers modeled potential scenarios for the next few months based on current social distancing practices. The researchers wanted to investigate whether rates of infection would be effectively slowed by just one cycle of social distancing. Based on their models, the researchers found this assumption is likely not the case. The majority of the public is certain to feel disappointed by these findings and turn to technology to gain some semblance of maintaining the status quo.  

Delivery apps meet an important need in isolation

The Washington Post published an article in April stating a delivery driver reported receiving 25-30% more orders in the past month. This suggests that people feel safer having food delivered directly to them, rather than risking exposure in stores and restaurants.

“I don’t think food delivery services are particularly risky,” said Amesh Adalja, M.D., a physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security to The Washington Post. “It’s a good way to do social distancing, which is especially important for the elderly.”

Delivery apps are meeting the needs of many of America’s workforce who are under stay-at-home orders. Now, food delivery services are moving to contactless drop-off to minimize the chance of spreading the virus. This is in recognition of the worry people feel about encountering other people in a pandemic.

This kind of conscious marketing to validate people’s concerns could potentially create life-long loyal customers after the pandemic is over. Companies that rise to the occasion and help to alleviate the stress of life in a pandemic are poised to succeed in a struggling economy.

Unemployment rates skyrocket

According to a PBS News Hour poll, 18% of people report that someone in their household has recently lost employment because of the pandemic. This means that millions of people will be looking for ways to earn money.

The global economy has come to a near stand-still in less than 60 days. With millions of people out of work in the U.S., there will be more people seeking employment when life gets back to normal. Side gigs like delivering food could be the answer to that problem.

People will be looking for gigs to help make ends meet, like delivery services. With daily activities shut down indefinitely, people who can stay home are using more delivery services than ever before.

Reliance on delivery services has become invaluable to the public in the coronavirus crisis. When a return to “normal” occurs, people may still use apps to distance themselves. Some people feel safer having food delivered rather than going out and possibly risking exposure in public.

Millions of people have recently become job-less, but delivery apps may be able to provide people with part-time jobs and increase the efficiency of enforcing stay-at-home orders. There won’t be a quick return to normal, but a slow trickle to something more normal.

Some people will continue to work from home, and some may even have a lingering fear of public places and being around large groups of people. In that case, it’s imperative that a safety net of delivery apps is in place to help people retain some sense of normal.

The Professor’s Room – Remote Edition

Step inside the plant-filled home office/classroom of Megan S. Lazorski, Ph.D., assistant professor, Chemistry.

By Siet Wright

April 23, 2020

Megan Lazorski in her home office/classroom.When Megan Lazorski, Ph.D., assistant professor, Chemistry, joined Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2017, she didn’t imagine teaching from her living room. Since the COVID-19 campus closure, Lazorski conducts classes virtually – and her dogs and cat make frequent appearances.

Since moving her workspace to her apartment, Lazorski has had to make some adjustments, such as covering windows to reduce the glare on her whiteboard and navigating FedEx deliveries in the middle of lectures. At first, she found the pivot to at-home teaching challenging, but then she began to rewatch recordings of her classes to help her evaluate and improve.

“I just love chemistry,” she said. “I love talking about it, thinking about it and doing research. It’s just a fascinating look into the mysteries of our existence.”

Lazorski attributes this professional passion to the inspiring professors she had in undergraduate and graduate school who drew her toward teaching – and to Robin Williams’ character in the film “Dead Poets Society.”

Step into her apartment to see how she continues to engage her students.

  1. The black-and-white painting of Marie Curie was gifted to me by my aunt when I earned my Ph.D. When I was younger, I revered Marie Curie and did a report on her because she was one of the only well-known women chemists at the time.
  2. My home virtual classroom is anchored by a pink wooden stand I found in the dumpster. I was going to turn it into a bookshelf, but desperate times called for making it into a computer stand, which is stabilized with zip ties. Two zip ties are affixed to the front of the stand as well to hold my phone as a secondary recording device. The whole contraption is stabilized with two hand weights and a large rock.
  3. I lived in a tent while working as a whitewater rafting guide in Maine for two summers during undergrad. I returned to Maine in my gap year before graduate school and taught high school science courses. These photos are of Maine’s iconic places.
  4. I am from a family of gardeners, and I don’t feel at home unless I have plants in my house. I especially love orchids. There are so many varieties, and they are all so unique and beautiful. Most of the plants on my plant stand are orchids. The one with  inflorescence is a miltonia, and there are three phalaenopsis and a vanda. I also have a jade plant, air plants, a pothos and a Swedish ivy that was gifted to me.
  5. The ceramic sugar skull is from Baja California. I used to travel there often when I lived in California. There was an amazing wine region called the Ruta Del Vino that I enjoyed exploring. I loved learning about the history, artwork and culture of the region. I am drawn to the sugar skull because I love the bright colors, patterns and imagery representing Mexican art and culture.

Roadrunner earns Fulbright Scholarship

Biology graduate Spencer Shute will study cognitive neuroscience in the Netherlands.

By Siet Wright

April 27, 2020

Spencer Shute

Spencer Shute never considered himself an ideal student. Shute struggled in high school and into his early college days at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Things changed, however, when the biology major decided to “hack” his brain to build healthy work habits that would help him succeed.

And succeed he has. Shute, an MSU Denver biology graduate, is on his way to earning a master’s degree in cognitive neuroscience at Radboud University in the Netherlands, thanks partly to a Fulbright Scholarship.

“My ultimate ambition in life is to develop an understanding of the mind,” said Shute. “This ambition has inspired me to travel and understand the perspectives of others.”

Broad curiosity and an interest in science initially compelled Shute to consider careers in STEM, with the long-term goal of applying for medical school, but a leadership experience in high school piqued his interest in cognitive neuroscience. While observing a group of middle-school students in an outdoor-education program, Shute was told to “watch out” for the students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who were described as impulsive and inattentive. Noting the behavioral differences between ADHD students and neurotypical students eventually led him to work as a tutor and academic coach for learning-disabled students.

Shute now believes research into the neurophysiology of ADHD and associated disorders will quickly lead to important discoveries in childhood development, education and looming issues of mental health.

“We must not underestimate the pervasive afflictions of the mind that plague so many families and communities. But more importantly, we must not underestimate the profound progress that can be made should we decide to tackle such afflictions together,” he said.

With the help of the Fulbright Scholarship, Shute will study neural structure and function, focusing on the relationship among the brain, environment and behaviors. He also wants to immerse himself in an entirely new culture, share his own and carry what he’ll learn into his life and career.

“Such pursuits also define a personal mission to understand my world and feed a driving hunger for personal growth and self-improvement – no longer for myself but for my students, family and community,” he wrote in his Fulbright submission.

Shute attributes his success to the support of his family, friends and mentors at MSU Denver. In particular, he wishes to thank his academic mentors, biology Professors Clare Hays, DVM, and Jeff Simpson, D.C.

Lost and Found in Santa Fe:

Locals struggle with adapting to a changing economy

By Siet Wright

A small crowd formed outside the only pawn shop in Santa Fe– waiting to sell, waiting to buy, waiting for their turn to tell their story. The people conversed amongst each other, talking about the only bits of their lives valuable enough to sell. What they must sell and why they are there. They each came to the pawn shop to sell a treasured item for money, but they all have different reasons for waiting. A bullet hole spider webs the front door of the shop and a hand-written sign on the glass read, “We are closed to assist the Santa Fe Police Department in an investigation.”

The city had transformed in the last few decades with the Anglo art scene, and some New Mexicans that stayed struggle to keep up with the rising costs of living. For some, staying was a choice. For others, there was no choice. They can’t afford to leave, their families have lived there for generations, and there is nowhere to go anyways.

Bob Lopez of Santa Fe leaned against the adobe wall and waited patiently for the store to open. He had been waiting for 20 minutes to sell some rifles from his collection. He didn’t want to sell his guns, but he just turned 80 years old and had a respiratory disease that made him worry he may have reached his end.

“I’m getting along in years, and I don’t want to burden my wife with selling my things when I go,” Lopez said in a quiet voice. “I want to make sure all she has to worry about selling is the house, after I die.”

The man looked off into the distance and sunglasses partially hid moist eyes as his words trailed away. He wore a white golf shirt, and a white ball cap with the Nike logo on it. He crossed his arms and looked uncomfortable. He readjusted his position and leaned against the wall in attempt to look casual. A large black Nissan pickup truck entered the parking lot.  

“I don’t want her to worry about…” his own worries de-railed his train of thought and another person approached, saving him from his next words. The woman walked to the front of the store dressed in brightly colored garb, wearing a straw western hat, with a black band of silver bears wrapped around it. She was petite with long, onyx black hair and a few wiry lines of stark grey streaking it.

“They ain’t open, or what?” the woman asked with a loud and thick New Mexican accent, breaking the emotional moment of Lopez’ quiet thoughts.

“There’s a sign on the window, that says they had a shooting,” Lopez said to her. “We are just waiting for them to open the door.”

Maria Trujillo, 70, from Santa Fe, decided to join the waiters outside the pawn shop and share her story, too.

“I lost my job, because we ain’t busy no more. There used to be 20 of us, but now there’s just three,” Trujillo said. “I got to make my truck payment, so I came down here to sell some of my jewelry. I don’t want to sell, but I gotta have my truck.” Her hands were busy, flashed like birds darting around, searching in the pockets of her large black purse.

She pulled out a gallon-sized freezer bag full of old Indian jewelry, just as a third person joined the crowd waiting. He was tall and lean and dressed all in black. He heard the story from the others waiting, about the shooting investigation and decided to wait silently alongside them.

Trujillo showed each piece of jewelry one by one, to anyone interested. One piece was hand carved turquoise birds. The silver accents were pure sterling and the necklace was heavy and well-made. The next piece of jewelry was sterling silver, with red coral and a large silver horse centerpiece. Her asking price was $200 for the coral and silver necklace, and she hoped to get $100 for the turquoise. She mentioned again, that she didn’t want to sell the jewelry, but her husband had passed and since she lost her job, she had nothing else to fall back on.

Upon hearing her story, the tall man in black, Mike Johnson, 58, spoke up and asked to see the jewelry again. He offered her cash for two of her necklaces, and she accepted. After he had agreed to pay, she continued to offer selling points about the jewelry he had already bought.

Johnson had an easy smile, and a sun browned face full of lines. His accent declared that he wasn’t from Santa Fe and he offered that he was a New Zealander. He had bought the jewelry as a gift for his partner, and he assured Trujillo that she would love it. He promised that he would never sell the jewelry. This seemed to comfort the woman and she was quiet at last. Whether it was the comfort of knowing that her treasures would become someone else’s treasures, or the knowledge that for at least one more month she could keep her truck. She seemed momentarily assured.

Bob Lopez had hoped to sell his collectible rifles but had grown tired of waiting and said his goodbyes to the group. He listened and watched the exchange of cash and jewelry and he was ready to call it a day since no one had asked to see his guns.

After Lopez drove away in his silver Dodge Ram 3500 pickup, another car pulled into the parking lot and two men walked to the door. They were informed about the status of the shop and decided to wait. The 1:30 open time had long come and past, and the doors remained locked.

The group introduced themselves to one another and found common ground on many subjects. An hour passed, and another but they were comfortable chatting with their newfound friends outside of a closed pawn shop, where they were each hoping to find or sell something special.

More people came, but none stayed with the waiters who were lost in a long and meandering conversation. The talk turned from guns, to marijuana, to gentrification– then jumped to politics and the struggles of Latinos trying to survive in the rapidly changing Santa Fe economy.

Everyone who went to the pawn shop that day had something to find or something to sell. Some walked away empty handed, some made a new friend, but all walked away feeling like they had found something special after all. A connection with strangers that became friends.

Abrupt change of plans: Physical isolation does not have to mean social isolation

A virtual classroom, led by Professor Michelle Baum at MSU Denver, 2020.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, my days started at 6 a.m. Like many people I would wake up my kid, make our meals and prepare for the day ahead . I’m an MSU Denver senior, a student employee and a single mom.

On Wednesday March 11 everything changed. Auraria leadership assured us the campus would not likely shut down. I had my doubts when I received an email from my daughter’s school that they would be closing. I went to work on campus one last day before packing up my things and going home, possibly for good. Walking out the building with all my things in my hands made me feel like I had been fired. When I got in my car, I felt a bit of relief to not be around the collective population of 43,000 students, faculty and staff that co-exist with me five days a week on Auraria campus.

I learned a plethora of foreign concepts and heard terms like, “unprecedented,” “new normal,” “social distancing,” “remote learning,” and “virtual workplace” constantly. But what did these words really mean?

The first day working from home was just about catching up on old emails, cancelling events on the university calendar, reaching out to co-workers to coordinate projects and trying to find my footing. Learning what exactly is the “new normal?”

Then logging in to a virtual class conducted on Zoom with 25 other people. The discord was jarring- people talking at once, feedback from the audio whenever the professor spoke, people interrupting her to ask questions she had already answered. It was clear that it wasn’t going to be easy. Her kids popped in to say hello, cat faces popped in to rub against computer screens. I had to mute my own end to hide the noise of my house.

It’s harder when you are a single parent, working from home with a 5-year-old in tow. It’s overwhelming. The school district abruptly ended in person teaching on Friday and my daughter didn’t get to say goodbye to her teachers and friends. The district sent a large packet of schoolwork for her to do in the mail, and we check-in online with her teacher every day. She is given activities like reading and math, and takes a quiz to illustrate she has done them. Suddenly I’m a kindergarten teacher, a college student, and an employee working from home. All in the same number of hours a day that I had before.

Abrupt is the most accurate word that I can think of to describe this experience. When we are home normally, she is used to a routine but not a vigorous one that involves me doing mid-terms, writing emails and talking on video conferences with my professors and bosses.

Being at home triggers the desire for comfort- to wear jammies all day, watch bad television shows, bake random goodies, play outside and catch up on social media bingeing. It doesn’t evoke a rigorous schedule in which all things must adhere to.

Some of my classes were already online and so the switch to online learning was easier for me than some of my classmates. I have heard from each of my professors and am grateful that spring break starts tomorrow. I need a break to get used to the transition.

A classmate of mine, Chaunsae Dyson, junior in public relations, is struggling with the added stress. “I have more to do now online, but I have more distractions at home. I’m communicating with my professors through a box, and it’s not as interactive as I need my learning to be,” Dyson said. He worries that his education won’t be able to recover after this over.

One positive side effect of this is that I have talked on the phone with almost every one of my friends and family this week. I can’t remember the last time I did that. My community has been working overtime to check in on each other and send cheerful gifs and memes to remind us to hold on. Especially after graduation was postponed. That caused a new wave of depression.

There have been grim days and the overwhelming feelings are building. I sent a video conference request to my friend Laura and we talked about our feelings and the transition. We are both seniors, and neither of us has ever walked the stage to receive a diploma before. We commiserated about the grief of losing our last semester in college and the chance to partake in a commencement ceremony. We reminded each other it’s okay to feel bad right now. This is something we only shared with each other, because what is important is public health and we know that. But it doesn’t make the loss easier to accept.

“I choose to show up for myself,” said Laura Kramer, senior in English. “In the morning, I get dressed, comb my hair and make lists for what my day will entail. School, work, home; all the things I need to do. I give myself an hour in the morning to get organized for the day.”

My friend’s advice is solid, and I take it to heart. I try to follow her lead. We decided to start a weekly virtual happy hour, to check in with our community. I arranged one for my fellow student workers as well. It’s empowering and uplifting how everyone is reaching out to check in on each other this week to see if we are all still there.

This has been an abrupt and sudden change for everyone, to the new normal. I’m fortunate to have a community to hold me to the ground while the ground is shifting. Reaching out to other people to see how they are coping and managing the new normal has also been helpful.

“It’s definitely a juggling act. Like all other parents, we’re doing the best we can to keep our kids on track while juggling work, life, pets and the TP shortage,” said Michelle Baum, professor of journalism and media production. “I’ve been really impressed by my students’ resilience and commitment to keep moving forward. I know some students are concerned they won’t be able to stay on-task in an online learning environment. My hope is they’ll see class as an opportunity to stay connected with their peers and maintain a sense of normalcy, and maybe even laugh a bit.”

Baum is taking the change in stride and is giving me a great example of what it’s like to be a good role model for others in my community. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxiety stricken right now. Physical isolation does not have to mean social isolation. Leaning on fellow students, co-workers, friends and family is what we all need to be doing right now. We need each other.

One thing is for certain, this situation is making us learn new technologies, new collaboration methods and testing out our adaptability and coping skills! This won’t last forever, but we are certain to be better off for it when it is over.