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Year in Review: The most important stories of 2020


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Hudsonville sophomore Olivia Copeland sits in front of the Central Michigan University seal Aug. 31.

Central Michigan University welcomed 2020 like it was any other year – and hoped that it would be an improvement on 2019. 

Basketball was in full swing. We celebrated MLK Week and Black History Month with a variety of events. Students were ready to tackle Spring Break and celebrate St Patrick's Day.

Then a global pandemic struck down college life as students knew it.

As the COVID-19 pandemic infected Michigan while CMU students were on Spring Break, it forced classes into a sudden, virtual disarray. Many seniors lost their last semester of college before they even had time to process the impact of COVID-19.

But students leaving CMU did not slow down activity in Mount Pleasant. Following the killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd, the summer was dominated by protests and dialogues against systemic racism. Protests continued into the fall semester.

The fall semester proved to be a test: what would COVID-19 cases look like on a university campus while running in person classes? While many students and faculty had their doubts that face-to-face instruction would last more than a few weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases remained relatively low throughout the semester.  

As 2020 comes to an end, here's a look back at some of the year's biggest stories Central Michigan Life covered on campus and across the country. 

JANUARY 

• The Student Government Association began its centennial year with its first meeting on Jan. 13. The organization held a virtual event in November to celebrate.

• Former SGA president Ian Elliott pleaded no contest to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct following an agreement with the Michigan Attorney General's Office. He withdrew a previous no-contest plea to a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge and vacated the 366-day sentence he began serving Aug. 2, 2019, in St. Louis Correctional Facility.

• Grace Hunt, 22, the mother of a toddler who drowned on Central Michigan University's campus in September 2019, was arraigned on charges of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse. The toddler was 14 months old. Later on June 3, she pleaded no contest to one count of involuntary manslaughter and her sentencing scheduled for July 10. Isabella County Circuit Chief Judge Eric R. Janes on July 14 delayed sentencing Hunt for one year. For that year, Hunt will be on probation and must complete 120 hours of community service. If she follows this, Hunt will be allowed to withdraw her prior plea of no contest to involuntary manslaughter and replace it with a plea to fourth-degree child abuse.

FEBRUARY

• Faculty member Steven Lapeer debuted his animation project, “Fire Power,” at several animation festivals. Many students at Huntington University in Indiana worked on the project and it won first place at the Los Angeles Animation Festival.

• Former Texas Tech quarterback Jett Duffey was planning to attend CMU as a graduate transfer under coach Jim McElwain. Though the university was aware Duffey had been arrested in 2018 and was found responsible in a 2017 Title IX sexual assault investigation, he was denied admission after the university became aware of a second 2019 sexual assault complaint.

• Former Assistant Attorney General Brian Kolodziej was forced to resign after it was found that he forged police reports in the CMU sexual assault case related to Ian Elliott. His resignation launched an internal investigation by Attorney General Dana Nessel into Kolodziej's unethical behavior. He was accused of submitting "erroneous police reports" to the Isabella County court and the Michigan Department of Corrections. Its conclusions were sent on Nov. 26 to defense attorney Joe Barberi, who represented the defendant in the sexual assault case. Barberi said he received copies of 21 interviews conducted as part of Nessel's investigation.

• Ian Elliott was resentenced Feb. 7. He withdrew his plea agreement after the Attorney General's office found that Kolodziej acted inappropriately. Elliott agreed to serve one year in Isabella County Jail on a reduced charge of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. He received credit for the 189 days he already served in prison after he previously pled no contest to third-degree CSC in July. 

- After thousands of students signed a petition and organized protests to demand a meal swipe donation program, Central Michigan University responded by quickly implementing a plan that allows students to help fight food insecurity. As the Spring 2020 semester began, so did the Meal Swipe Bank and the $1 Meals initiative, which allowed students to purchase leftover food from the Down Under Food Court for $1.

• Farmington Hills freshman Octayvious Sanchez-Lewis was charged with three counts of assault with intent to murder and two counts of carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent after a fight Saturday at Wayside Central on Feb. 22. Sanchez-Lewis told police that three or four people "just started punching him and he had to defend himself." The 19-year-old complained of jaw pain, although police did not observe and visible injuries on him, according to the affidavit. Wayside later responded by starting to use metal detectors.

• Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity was temporarily suspended from CMU and investigated by the 

The Tau Kappa Epsilon house sits at 906 S. Main St. on Feb. 28, 2020.

Office of Student Conduct. The fraternity was accused of hazing and alcohol violations. Damon Brown, then director of student activities and involvement, investigating potential violations of the CMU Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities. The investigation resulted in no charges and the chapter is able to operate as a student organization.

• Central Michigan Life was named College Media Company of the Year for the seventh-straight year by the College Media and Business Advertising Managers at the Associated Collegiate Press/CMBAM College Journalism Convention Feb. 27-29. The award came along with a total of 10 first-place awards, nine second-place awards, four third-place awards and two honorable mentions. In total, CM Life collected 29 awards at the national convention.

MARCH

• Former Mount Pleasant swim coach, David Alsager, 66, was arraigned on a charge of criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Alsager, appeared on March 3 in Isabella County Trial Court where he was charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a 12-year-old girl. He is the husband of Mount Pleasant city commissioner Mary Alsager. The court case is ongoing.

• CMU cancelled all 2020 Spring Break study abroad trips on March 4 due to the coronavirus. All programs in South Korea, Italy, Iran and China were suspended. As study abroad programs were suspended, 17 CMU students studying abroad in Italy and China forced to evacuate with short notices.

• On March 5, Central Michigan football player Kyron McKinnie-Harper waived his preliminary exam for six criminal charges – four felonies and two misdemeanors – involving computer crimes. He was charged with using student accounts to purchase iPhones. 

• Nicole Sparling Barco was appointed director of the Honors Program on March 6 by Provost Mary Schutten. Barco replaced Phame Camarena as Honors Program Director on July 1. Her appointment will last until June 30, 2023. Barco has started working with Camarena to create a smoother transition before she begins.

The Central Michigan Women's Basketball Team returns to the floor after a timeout during a game against Toledo in the first round of the MAC Tournament March 11 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, OH. It was announced Tuesday that the game would not allow general admission into the stadium.

• The Mid-American Conference Tournament announced on March 10 that all games would be played without fans due to COVID-19. They announced the tournament was to be played as scheduled, but only credentialed institutional personnel, student-athlete family members, credentialed media, television and radio crews and official team party members were allowed into the arena. 

• Michigan's first two COVID-19 cases were confirmed during a March 11 press conference.  CMU announced all courses would be online right after Spring Break ended until March 20. As the university began to make more closures, the Women's Basketball Team, which was already playing audience free games, fell just short in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals.

• As COVID-19 cases and concerns began to rise, the NCAA canceled March Madness and other competitions on March 12, as the MAC suspended all athletic practices competitions, including their tournament, for the rest of the academic year. 

• CM Life was named the Michigan Press Association's 2019 Division 1 College Newspaper of the Year on March 12 and won many other awards.

On March 13, CMU extended online-only classes until April 6 in light of the rising number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Michigan.

Students and professors had their first day of online-only courses on March 16 after all face-to-face classes were moved online amid coronavirus concern. Each professor handled the change to online learning differently, including attempting to have their classes sing, regardless of internet lagging.

• CMU announced March 19 that the rest of the academic year would be completed online only and postponed commencement ceremonies for the spring semester until further notice due to coronavirus concerns.

The Isabella County government announced March 21 that all county facilities were closed to the public due to coronavirus concerns.

The first case of COVID-19 in Isabella County was confirmed March 23 by the Central Michigan District Health Department.

Two CMU students tested positive for COVID-19 on March 26. One of the two cases was confirmed on CMU’s campus. 

• The first death in Isabella County from the coronavirus was confirmed by the Central Michigan District Health Department March 29. According to a press release, the death occurred at McLaren Central Michigan hospital in Mount Pleasant. The patient was a man in his 80s. He was admitted to the hospital on March 21 and had underlying health conditions.

APRIL

• Since the National Model United Nations Conference was cancelled due to COVID-19, the Model United Nations class emulated World Health Organization during coronavirus pandemic.  Instead of echoing the UN General Assembly, the students Zoomed in on the World Health Organization on April 1 which was at the forefront of advising global leaders on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following a digital campaign and a four-day voting period, on April 6 press secretary Kaitlyn Prebelich and membership director Brett Houle were elected president and vice president of CMU’s Student Government Association for the 2020-21 school year.

CMU freshman, Jasmine Smith, reflected on loss of father due to coronavirus in a CM Life 

Jessie Smith, 69, died at 4:33 a.m. April 5 from COVID-19. (Photo Courtesy of Jasmine Smith)


story. Smith said in a April 10 interview that the loss was particularly difficult because ‘He had a heart of gold’ and was her best friend.

April 16

With classes moving to an online format, services like the Writing Center, the Math Assistance Center and the Presentation Skills Center had to move online as well.

April 19

• Morgan Painter, Shepherd resident, balanced being a mother with making masks. In a story CM Life published on April 19, Painter said her day started at 6:30 a.m. to get a head start on her five hours of mask-making before her two kids, Hudzyn, 7, and Creedynce, 5, woke up to start their new daily routines. Painter said she returned to the workshop between the family’s living room and dining room in the evening to round out her nine hours of mask making.

Former CMU student Raven Tre-Von Edelen was killed April 20 in a shooting that took place around 6 p.m. at 700 Edgewood Dr.  Mount Pleasant Police officers arrested a suspect who was lodged in the Isabella County Jail awaiting arraignment.

• In 2010, Central Michigan University students initiated a small food recovery project, creating the first campus compost pile. As CM Life reported on April 29, over the last 10 years, that composting project has evolved into zero-waste kitchens, which divert approximately 330 tons of food scraps from landfills every year. These efforts are now being recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which recognized CMU as its 2019 WasteWise College/University Partner of the Year.

MAY

A CMU student walks up to a barricaded entrance to Foust Hall March 20 on campus.


• The athletic department announced May 3 it was following the precedent set by other universities in the state by making individual pay cuts due to coronavirus. The department announced cuts to Athletic Director Michael Alford, football coach Jim McElwain, men's basketball coach Keno Davis and women's basketball coach Heather Oesterle. 

President Davies announced May 4 significant budget reductions at every level of the university due to challenges caused by the coronavirus in an email to faculty. All vice presidents, deans and some senior level professional and administrative staff had their salaries reduced from two and eight percent.

As reported on May 18, between March 1 and April 22, there have been 66 reports of domestic violence in Isabella County. During the same time frame in 2019, there were 54 domestic violence complaints. This shows a 22 percent increase from last year.

• Two female drum majors were announced to lead the Central Michigan Marching Band for the first time in history this fall during the Marching Chips' 98th season. In a May 19 story, head drum major Gabrielle Bass, Lake Isabella senior, and assistant drum major Jordan Healey, Cadillac junior, discussed being chosen to be the first female duo to conduct the band and lead march-offs.   

• On May 19, the athletics department announced men's indoor and outdoor track and field at Central Michigan has been eliminated as part of university wide cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic.

• On May 26, Central Michigan University announced it received $14.3 million from the federal government through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The $7.16 million earmarked for students was used for two initiatives, a CMU CARES Student Assistance Fund and an undergraduate need-based student grant program.

JUNE

Students, faculty and community members marched peacefully in solidarity with people 

Two men embrace after laying on the ground with their hands behind their back for nine minutes during the protest on June 1.

across the nation in support of Black Lives Matter on June 2. Two marches, both organized by CMU students, were held in Mount Pleasant following the death of George Floyd and many others from police brutality.

• Special Olympics Michigan announced June 4 that the 2020 State Summer Games would be held virtually for the first time in its history from July 19-25. 

On June 6, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the creation of the Michigan Workforce Development Board comprised of 20 leaders, including CMU's very own President Davies, on May 29.

• On June 14, alumna Chelsea Ekowa released screenshots of text message conversations from July 2015 to Facebook and Twitter. The screenshots contained racist messages from other incoming freshman in 2015. Many of the students, who had obtained leadership roles while at CMU, saw repercussions to their actions after the screenshots were posted.

• Central Michigan University's Board of Trustees approved the proposed $428 million operating budget at its June 25 meeting. The budget was smaller than the previous year's $461 million. That's a $33 million decrease from the previous year, due to enrollment decline and affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

JULY

• After alumna Skyler Mills posted a video on Instagram on July 7, Tim Boudreau, chair of Central Michigan University’s Journalism Department, was put on paid administrative leave. The video showed Boudreau saying a racial slur while quoting language used in a 1993 lawsuit a during a class lecture. In September, CMU fired Boudreau.

• Athletic director Michael Alford announced his resignation from CMU to become the CEO of Seminole Boosters at Florida State. Alford took over the position in 2017 and led the program through several coaching changes and financial sucess.

• President Davies announced on July 17 that Central Michigan University eliminated 80 vacant staff positions and 46 vacant tenure/tenure track faculty positions. The reductions were a response to the university's dual financial struggles of low enrollment and COVID-19. 

• After learning more about CMU history, Georgia senior Anthony Wilson wrote a petition to get two buildings renamed due to previous racist behavior by their name sakes. Wilson wrote to President Davies and presented at the June 20 Board of Trustees meeting, but the buildings have yet to be renamed.

• The Central Michigan University symptom monitoring application CMICH Healthscreen launched on July 27, for all students, faculty and staff to safely monitor their health and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

AUGUST

Incumbent Isabella County Commissioner Jim Moreno defeated his Democrat primary opponent William Dailey during the Aug. 4 primary election. Moreno will continue to serve as the District 5 Commissioner.

The Mid-American Conference announced Aug. 8 there will be no sports for its member's schools.The conference announced it elected to cancel its football, volleyball, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer and field hockey seasons in the fall.

• CMU's COVID-19 protocol was called into question after a video was shared of students reportedly leaving a hall used to quarantine and isolate to attend a party. On Aug. 11,  junior Colm Klopcic tweeted his friend's video taken from his room inside the residence hall the university dedicated to sheltering students exposed to COVID-19.

Incoming students received a warm, but restricted, welcome during the 2020 CMU IMPACT 

A family hugs after helping their new CMU student move into their dorm room Aug. 13.

program on Aug. 13 and 14. The university program introduced incoming multicultural freshmen and transfer students to CMU while meeting fellow incoming students. 

• CMU's Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer A.T. Miller resigned, effective Aug. 31.

• Due to campus guidelines for the Fall 2020 semester, the traditional five-day Leadership Safari was cut down to a one-day event, Expedition Safari, on Aug. 15. Students were social distanced and had to wear masks.

• After a spring and summer of social distancing, and an early move-in, some students were ready to celebrate being together during Welcome Weekend. President Davies went on a ride-along with the CMU Police Department to several off-campus houses and apartments. He said that at each gathering he encouraged students to wear masks and practice social distancing. Welcome Weekend violations continued a four-year decline as students returned. 

As students began classes two weeks earlier than traditionally scheduled, and before other competing universities, the university distributed guidelines Aug. 17 on different platforms. The Fired Up for Fall page, emails and social media provided information to students, staff, parents and visitors to campus. To offer some face-to-face instruction during classes, Central Michigan University switched to the Hyflex model, allowing students to attend face-to-face classes while following health precautions or through video conference apps such as Cisco Webex or Zoom.

• On Aug. 26, Central Michigan University and Mount Pleasant Police Departments declared they were ready to enforce health and safety guidelines after 54 coronavirus cases were confirmed among students earlier this week.

• A group of students formed a CMU Racial Injustices Reform Committee that started in June during the nationwide conversation about Black Lives Matter and racism. The committee released a call for on action to social media on Aug. 26. Within the call for action, they developed a set of goals for the university to complete by the end of September.

• Junior Rondo Sanders filed complaint against a university employee after he made a racial comment to him at Cheers Neighborhood Grill. The employee later "retired" from the university.

SEPTEMBER

• CMU President Bob Davies announced the university saw a significant drop in enrollment for Fall 2020 at the first academic senate meeting of the semester. He said enrollment at CMU dropped by 11 percent and the decrease was expected considering enrollment declines over the past 10 years and the spread of COVID-19.

• Ibram X. Kendi, the award-winning author of New York Times bestseller "How To Be An Antiracist," virtually discussed the difference between being not racist and antiracist Sept. 2. The Boston University professor spoke to more than 350 Central Michigan University students via Webex. According to Kendi's definition, nonracist comes from the phrase “I am not racist,” which people typically say when they have done something racist to be in racist denial. By Kendi's definition, an antiracist is in contrast to nonracist, which is to admit where one is being racist. “Antiracist policies lead to equity and justice,” Kendi said.

• The “Legalize Being Black: Our Lives Matter Too" rally was held on and throughout Mount Pleasant. The march drew a crowd of about 350 people.

• Detroit senior and organizer Darian Bird said the march was about creating a better world for his son by inspiring change on the local level. “This starts locally, this starts with our community," Bird said. "I’m hoping this raises some awareness and people understand racism shouldn’t be prevalent, it shouldn’t be around especially in a town that is home to a diverse amount of people with Central Michigan University."

• The Student Activity Center reopened to students on Sept. 14 after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order on Sept. 3 allowed gyms and pools to open. Plexiglas separated the front-desk workers from students, equipment in the Fitness Center and Weight Training Center were spaced to accommodate social distancing guidelines and face masks were required.

• "Leadership for Liberation March and Rally" was held on Sept. 18 where students, alumni and a faculty member called for the suspension of face-to-face classes, protection of CMU employees and mandated anti-racism training, among other demands.

• U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a 2,000 page document of changes to Title IX and required schools to have them in effect by Aug. 14. As reported on Sept. 24, although CMU, has control over covering misconduct issues not detailed in Title IX, students formed a 'Title IX' taskforce and began to work with OCRIE.

• Amy Folan is named Athletic Director. Folan came to CMU after spending 17 years working in the Texas athletic department and eight as the executive senior associate athletics director and overseeing the Longhorn Foundation, the department's fundraising arm. “I am honored to be joining the CMU Chippewa family,” Folan said. “Central Michigan is a tradition-rich program with an incredible record of success."

New CMU athletic director Amy Folan is introduced at a press conference Sept. 22 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium.


• After other college football conferences decide to reverse decisions and schedule fall games, the Mid-American Conference announced that a shortened football season was scheduled to begin on Nov. 4 and conclude on Dec. 18 with the conference championship game at Ford Field in Detroit. CMU will play six games.

• Provost Mary Schutten announced in an email that students will not receive a spring break during the Spring 2021 semester. Instead, there will be five "wellness days" of no classes throughout the semester. In addition, classes will be fully online for the first week of the semester, Jan. 11-15.

• CM Life published a story highlighting the repeated vandalization of the Multicultural Greek Rock outside the Park Library, a landmark for historically Black fraternities and sororities on campus. The rock has been vandalized with the words “Cop Killer,” swastikas and writings of Adolf Hitler.

OCTOBER

• On October 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stripping the office of emergency powers, making executive orders null and void. CMU responded by continuing to honor the orders before as cases in the university began to slowly rise at the time.

• The Central Michigan Climate Solutions was held virtually on Oct. 11. This was the first joint collaborative effort between Central Michigan University and the greater Mount Pleasant community. The summit proposed initiatives and possible solutions to benefit both the community and the university.

NOVEMBER

• After transferring to CMU,  Westlake, Ohio graduate student Abby Farabaugh started a new support group called More Than a Body was started on campus.She said the idea behind the group is based around freedom of expression and building self-esteem.

• After long stretches of waiting, the Nov. 3 election results were announced. Mount Pleasant 

Junior running back Kobe Lewis (#4) celebrates a touchdown with his teammates during Central Michigan's 30-27 win over Ohio on Nov. 4 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. 

Mayor Will Joseph and Olivia Cyman won their Mount Pleasant city elections. Both state Rep. Roger Hauck and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar retained their seats. Later on, Michigan Senator Gary Peters and President-Elect Joe Biden both won their races.

• CMU won its first football game against the Ohio Bobcats on Nov. 4. at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The stadium experienced a power outage during the game. "I haven't had the lights go out in a game before," coach Jim McElwain said. "I thought they handled it real well. We knew it was going to take time to get them back on."

• A week following Halloween festivities, at least two people who attended O'Kelly's Sports Bar & Grill on Halloween tested positive for COVID-19. According to a press release from the Central Michigan District Heath Department, the department’s case investigations determined that employees and other patrons may have been exposed to the virus.

• On Nov. 8, a group of more than 150 Trump supporters gathered at Mount Pleasant Speedway for two hours to protest the president-elect Joe Biden. The crowd brought their flags, lawn chairs and guns. Signs including the words "Pro-Life," "Pro-God," "Pro-Gun," "Pro-Law" and "Pro-Trump" decorated trucks and fences surrounding the rally.

• Titus Davis, Chippewa football's all-time leading receiver and Wheaton, Illinois native, died Nov. 11. Davis, 27, suffered from renal medullary carcinoma, a rare form of kidney cancer. RMC is fast-acting and difficult to treat, and most of those affected have the sickle-cell trait. While at CMU, from 2011-2014, Davis was a four-time All-Mid-American Conference selection and two-time Herb Deromedi team MVP. His 3,700 receiving yards are the most in school history, while his 37 receiving touchdowns rank fourth.

• During the week of Nov. 9-15, CMU reported 103 new COVID-19 cases shortly before the semester ended and many students would return home. This was the largest spike in cases during the fall semester.

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