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Leadership, resilience, and sensemaking at Colorado State University during the COVID-19 pandemic




Letteney, Juliet SooGin, author
Williams, Elizabeth, advisor
Burgchardt, Carl, committee member
Anderson, Ashley, committee member

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This study examines the crisis communication qualities of crisis leadership, communicative resilience, and enacted sensemaking in the case of Colorado State University's response to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. The focus for university response is based in correspondence emailed from University President McConnell to the students. As groundwork for the study, I review crisis communication literature in general and focused studies in crisis leadership, Buzzanell's theory of constructed resilience, and Weick's enacted sensemaking. This foundation of literature informs a mixed method study comprising of a textual analysis of McConnell's correspondence and interviews with students enrolled at the time of the crisis. This methodology was used with the intention of addressing four research questions. RQ1: In what ways did President McConnell exhibit a leadership mindset in her response to the COVID-19 pandemic?, RQ2: In what ways did President McConnell's messages help construct a sense of resilience for CSU students?, RQ3A: In what ways did students make sense of the COVID-19 health crisis in the context of their student lives?, and RQ3B: What role did messages from President McConnell play in their sensemaking? These questions led to a wealth of insights about McConnell's communication in response to the pandemic and moving to virtual learning Spring 2020. Three major takeaways discussed are that the leadership role is particularly delicate in crisis situations, the practice of normalizing challenges in crisis should be paired with adjusting expectations, and that the reflex to strive for a business-as-usual approach should be cautiously balanced with an acceptance of the new normal a crisis requires.


2022 Spring.
Includes bibliographical references.

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crisis communication
crisis leadership


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