By Jason Gonzales, Chalkbeat Colorado
This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.
Fort Lewis College senior Ally Gee watched as COVID-19 devastated the Navajo Nation and took the lives of two loved ones.
The overwhelming impact the coronavirus is having on her life prompted her to share with her school in Durango the Diné, or Navajo, concept of K’é, meaning kinship. The philosophy, which Gee said is sacred to the Navajo Nation, is guiding the southwest Colorado college’s response to staying safe during the pandemic.
Inspired by Gee, Fort Lewis College honed a strategy that so far has tempered the spread of COVID-19. The 3,300-student public college has had 24 cases among students, faculty, and staff this fall. That’s a standout amid colleges and universities that are coping with outbreaks.
Broadly, in Indigenous cultures, K’é encompasses mutual respect among all living things. It is demonstrated by making decisions to benefit the greater community, Gee said.
The school crafted a campaign around the concept that employed social media to promote togetherness and a YouTube video of Gee speaking to students. She cast the best practices in pandemic prevention — wearing masks, keeping a safe social distance, and thinking through their actions to keep others safe — as behaving responsibly to the community.
“I’m very passionate about making sure that no one else loses their life to this virus,” said Gee, 21, a public health major. “It’s super important to me that at Fort Lewis we’re taking care of one another.”
The approach draws from the strengths of the school’s Indigenous students, empowers students to mold campus culture, and elevates the strategy’s effectiveness, said Fort Lewis College President Tom Stritikus.