August 2020

The Shadow Greater Than COVID

Although CSU’s abundant wealth is apparent, much of it is inaccessible for the most vulnerable student populations.

by Garrett Poitra

When I left my hometown of Denver in the Fall of 2019 to attend college at Colorado State University (CSU), I expected my time to be as it is in the movies. Parties, late nights studying, stress, and absurdly expensive textbooks. I am grateful these quintessential experiences found their way into my first year of college. Nevertheless, the enervating trials and implications of my Latino heritage and low socioeconomic status proved to be an unpleasant and persistent complication that strained my ability to smoothly transition into college. In March 2020, the universe decided to throw a wrench in the mix. While every undergraduate student felt the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, its effect on me was exacerbated by the insufficient financial means with which I had to react.

As the end of my senior year of high school approached, I waited every day for my golden ticket. In early March of 2018, my counselor entered my class and pulled me out, a smile adorned her face and I knew what she was going to give me. She handed me a letter of acceptance from CSU. I felt a strange rush of excitement, as if I could finally accept myself and the hard work I had conducted during times of endless struggle. It was like that piece of paper somehow validated my existence, giving value to my persistence. Despite my euphoric state, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was the anomaly. My neighborhood was littered with meager opportunities for work but there was a plethora of opportunities for less than legal means to earn a living. Why was I the one that didn’t perpetuate the cycle by getting into college? This internalized oppression didn’t limit me, but rather motivated me.

Soon, I embarked on my journey to CSU. Upon my arrival in Fort Collins, I immediately noticed the purity of the town—there weren’t cracks in the pavement, gas stations weren’t lined with iron bars and they didn’t have bulletproof glass. The streets were draped with luscious greenery and everything seemed meticulously placed. It was beautiful. CSU’s campus was exquisite. The green and gold colors seemed fitting, everything looked both valuable and natural.

Photo of Colorado State University The Oval, Fort Collins, CO by Mick Haupt on Unsplash.

Still, a part of me was unnerved, feeling as though I was an imposter who hadn’t truly earned his place. At times I felt like a pesky weed that wouldn’t go away. While explicit forms of racial prejudice are no longer as acceptable, the adaptation of white supremacy has resulted in surreptitious forms of denigration and oppression. At the forefront of attempts to maintain power over marginalized people are microaggressions, the euphemisms of a master narrative designed to make sure I know higher ed isn’t my “typical” place of belonging. For me, this was evident when a classmate told me “You’ve got a real beaner stache” or when I was told by my professor that my tattoos looked “ghetto,” as if an inked rose somehow signified that I was a criminal.

The psychological ramifications of these comments were disheartening. Those comments and others like them are silly and unfounded misinterpretations of my character. Nevertheless, they impacted my ability to perceive my own achievements rationally. Knowing this is how others viewed me led me to begin attributing my achievements to luck and my peer’s compliments of my intelligence as mere flattery.

Despite my ambivalence, I had settled into my life at CSU. I became accustomed to my material security on campus. Just six months prior to my arrival in Fort Collins I had been homeless. At CSU I could eat to my heart’s content every night and after I would sleep in a bed I could call my own. I had an appreciation for a life drastically different from that which I had previously known.

Image of Colorado State University by danylallen from Pixabay.

This life came to an end in early March when CSU’s administration began to entertain a campus-wide shut down due to COVID-19. The once vestigial feelings of uncertainty that characterized my life immediately returned. If campus were to shut down, where would I go? Would my old job rehire me? What was I to do with all my belongings? I was at the mercy of CSU’s response, and their lack of communication and vague hollow promises only exacerbated the anxiety that had become so deeply pervasive within me

Fortunately CSU allowed students in need to stay on campus for the remainder of the semester. Although they upheld the promise to house us, they failed to accommodate us in regards to academic workload and the substantive decrease in quality of education and services. I found myself tangled in a bureaucratic narrative that insisted online recorded lectures, services and slow department responses were of equal quality to the in-person education to which I had become accustomed.

Beyond allowing us to stay on campus, CSU’s decisions after March were particularly harmful to marginalized and impoverished students such as myself. Many of the services were abruptly stopped, and I was unable to reallocate the funds used for these to make ends meet. During this time, the provost was sending reassuring emails that the services would be offered virtually and so were still worth what students had paid for them. This lie became particularly apparent as many of the services previously offered could not be adapted virtually and so students were forced to go without them.

Most troubling for me was that I was unable to provide my mother’s taxes that showed me as an independent, because the central receiving office was closed. This resulted in me receiving $12,000 less in financial aid for the next year, a shortfall I am unable to make up. My financial circumstances have become bleak and I currently question whether or not a college education is now a feasible option right now. Although CSU’s abundant wealth is apparent, much of it is inaccessible for the most vulnerable student populations.

My pursuit of a college education is threatened not by a pandemic, nor by my own action. It has been put in jeopardy because the institution I put my faith and dreams in, the institution that maintains a façade of equal opportunity which prevented me from receiving financial aid. Many BIPOC students enter college with a sense of hope and awe, only to eventually feel ambivalence and even disillusionment with higher education after experiencing micro and macro oppressions.  I long for a sustainable life, but the place where I have chosen to pursue it repeatedly reminds me and others like me that it was never designed for us. CSU has failed to acknowledge and counteract the ways in which it fails the students it purports to wholeheartedly support. So far it has failed to correctly accommodate us in the new reality sparked by the COVID pandemic. Although colleges and universities across the country are typically at the forefront of progressive ideology, they fail to adequately account for the lack of resources and enervating trials working-class students of color so often face.

Garrett Poitra is a first-generation Latino student originally from Denver, Co. Garrett has a love for the sciences and anything related to marvel comics. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree at Colorado State University. As a second-year psychology student studying Clinical Psychology, he is planning on going to graduate school to become a licensed psychologist so that he can eventually study the pathological development of mental health disorders such as Borderline personality disorder and depression.

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