Year in Review: The Chronicle looks back at 2021

By Camryn Cutinello and Noah Jennings


2021 was another busy and unpredictable year, especially within the Columbia community. There was never a dull moment, so much so that it may be hard to remember everything. Since the Chronicle was there for it all, we are taking a look back at the highs, lows, twists and turns that 2021 had in store.

A new president takes office

Following multiple days of votes being tallied, Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump to win the 2020 presidential election.

With Biden and then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — the first Black, first Asian American and first woman to hold the office — set to be inaugurated on Jan. 20, members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives gathered to certify the election results on Jan. 6. That morning, Trump held a “Save America” rally at the Ellipse within the National Mall.

Protesters marched from the rally to the U.S. Capitol, and eventually breached police lines to storm the Capitol. Members of Congress were evacuated as rioters flooded into the building. Five people died as a result of the riot, including a Capitol Police officer.

Hours after the riot, Congress certified the results, and on Jan. 20, Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, with Harris at his side. The inauguration featured performances from Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks, as well as a poetry reading from Amanda Gorman, the United States’ first-ever youth poet laureate.

Trump did not attend the inauguration.

Virtual events

2021 began with the majority of classes and campus events held in a virtual format, following the same trend as 2020.

This included commencement ceremonies, which were held virtually for members of the Class of 2021.

In response, an independent group of students launched the #commenceanyways campaign to host their own in-person graduation ceremony.

Originally, the group aimed to hold their ceremony at Soldier Field, but after they were unable to raise enough money, they instead held the commencement at the Loews Chicago Hotel rooftop for 45 graduates.

Along with commencement, the 20th iteration of the Manifest Urban Arts Festival, the annual student-run event that highlights graduating seniors’ work, was hosted in a web format.

COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts

To begin the spring semester, the college required students returning to dorms to provide a negative COVID-19 test within three days prior to their return to campus and quarantine at home for the 10 days prior. All students attending an in-person class also had to provide a negative test no more than five days old before their first class. The first week of the semester was held completely virtually.

The college also required students to present their Daily Pre-Check before entering, which asked students to assess their health and to inform the school if they came in contact with anyone confirmed to have COVID-19. 

On April 19, the college officially announced it would require students to be fully vaccinated for the fall semester or receive approval for a medical or religious exemption. Columbia was the first four-year institution in Illinois to announce such a policy.

Columbia began administering “several hundred” Moderna vaccines to enrolled students living in Chicago a few days later on April 22. 

At the start of the fall semester, Columbia reported that 97% of the campus community was fully vaccinated.

On Nov. 12, the college announced it would distribute booster COVID-19 vaccines during two periods, the first from Nov. 15-19 and the second from Dec. 6-9. 

On the ground reporting

As Chicagoans got their vaccines, events moved from a virtual to in-person format.

Chicago gathered to celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time.

Despite the cancellation of the parade, Mexican-Americans took to the streets to celebrate Mexican Independence Day in September.

Native Americans gathered in October for the 68th Annual Chicago Powwow.

Live music returned, with Lollapalooza, Pitchfork and Riot Fest all holding in-person events.

Many Chicago traditions were able to return this year. In August, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J. B. Pritzker joined South Side natives for the 92nd annual Bud Billiken parade. The Air and Water show returned with a solo act by the United States Navy Blue Angels.

People also took to the streets to protest the outcomes of court cases that gained national attention. In October, the Texas abortion law passed, causing women’s rights activists to mobilize in Daley Plaza. Following the not guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse situation, Rev. Jesse Jackson joined protesters to express their anger and to ask the federal government to intervene in the trial.

Return to campus

The fall semester had a completely different feel to it, compared to the spring semester, as Columbia made big strides toward a full return to campus.

An estimated 75% of classes in the fall semester had either a fully in-person or a hybrid modality, compared to just 25% of classes in the spring semester.

A new cohort of first-year students experienced something close to the typical Columbia experience, as Convocation returned to Grant Park to kick off the new academic year. President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim described

seeing students’ faces again at Convocation as “emotional” after months of being largely online. Convocation was only the beginning of many events taking place on campus, as Columbia hosted student plays, holiday celebrations and 

brought back Wicked Week. 

In March, the college began offering a limited number of in-person tours for prospective students and their parents for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

Throughout the semester, Columbia’s on-campus COVID-19 case numbers have remained relatively low. 

A new policy on bringing children to campus

As students, faculty and staff returned to campus after 18 months, the administration took a look at policies and how they needed to adapt to the pandemic. On Sept. 21, the college released its first formal policy on bringing children to campus. 

The policy stated minors would only be allowed on campus, under “emergency or unavoidable circumstances.” It said prior approval would be needed to bring a child onto campus. 

The policy disappointed many members of the Columbia community. The Faculty Senate voted unanimously to urge the college to revoke the policy. Leaders from Columbia’s part-time faculty union, United Staff of Columbia College, the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association released a joint statement asking the college to reverse the decision. 

In response to the joint statement, which was emailed to Kim and members of his cabinet, Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David said the administration would form a working group led by Senior Associate Provost Nate Bakkum to discuss the policy. 

On Oct. 11, members of the faculty and staff held a rally outside the 600 S. Michigan Ave. building to protest the policy. Some attendees brought their children to the protest. 

Kim and Madhurima Chakraborty, president of the Faculty Senate and associate chair of the English and Creative Writing Department, expressed hope that the dialogue from the working group would be positive and a solution would be reached. 

Chakraborty told the Chronicle on Nov. 17, the day before the first meeting of the working group, that the Faculty Senate looked forward to the discussion surrounding the policy. 

The United Staff of Columbia College

After working on an expired contract for more than three years, the United Staff of Columbia College voted in favor of authorizing the executive committee to call a strike, with 74% of members voting and 94.9% voting in favor. 

This vote came after the union and the college reentered negotiations in September on a new contract. The current contract expired Aug. 31, 2018. 

In June, the staff union responded to a job listing for a housekeeper to clean and upkeep the college-owned house Kim lives in. The union wrote a letter to the editor expressing their interest in the position, saying “a part-time job is exactly what we need to make ends meet.” 

Longtime staff members Mary Mattucci and Michael Bright were laid off after their positions were eliminated. Mattucci had worked at Columbia for 40 years and Bright for 22 years. The decisions faced criticism, with the full-time faculty in the Communication Department writing a letter to the editor in support of Mattucci and praising her work for the college. 

The union asked Columbia to extend the healthcare coverage for Mattucci and Bright, as both were a few months from their 65th birthdays when they would qualify for Medicare. The request was denied. 

USofCC President Craig Sigele said the union started a GoFundMe with a goal to cover the healthcare expenses for Mattucci and Bright, and they were able to raise the necessary money themselves. 

Negotiations continue to progress between the college and the union. Sigele said the union and the college are in agreement on most areas of the contract, but the main issue has come down to money. 

Tuition is increased by 10% for next year

On Nov. 16, Kim announced a 10% tuition increase for undergraduate students beginning in Fall 2022 during a meeting with the Student Government Association. 

Residence hall prices will also increase by 2.5% for the next academic year. Additional fees, such as registration and instruction fees, will be wrapped up into a flat $1,450 fee. 

The college announced the creation of a “student aid pool,” established by the board of trustees. The $1.5 million dollar pool includes a fund for scholarships for returning students. 

Matthew Rillie, membership chair of the USofCC and coordinator of Student Support and Engagement for Student Diversity and Inclusion, said the college should consider the hardships students and staff have gone through since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Looking toward 2022 

The Chronicle learned to adapt again this year, going from a fully virtual to a hybrid newsroom. The return to the newsroom and to print lit a spark under new and returning staff members. Reporters focused on covering the campus with a new diligence, as just being on campus was a story in itself. 

As the Chronicle closes the pages on 2021 and looks toward 2022, our staff members will continue to figure out how to adapt to the ever-changing world.The news doesn’t slow down for anything, and the Chronicle will be there to report on it.