Sandra Doe, Ed.D., has seen it all. As one of the first 35 hires in 1965 at what was then called Metropolitan State College, she remembers what it was like to be an original Roadrunner. Then the Auraria campus was just a bunch of rented buildings scattered around downtown Denver with students and faculty running from building to building to get to class on time. .
Now a English a professor, Doe has taught more than 10,000 students since then as the school became Metro State and then Metropolitan State University of Denver. She remembers a student who survived the Vietnam War and stooped to the sound of a backfiring car as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder. She got an essay from a student who survived the Bataan Death March in World War II. Today she had students with family members and friends who were directly affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Everyone comes with a life and a story,” Doe said. “And they write them if I can teach them the stories. And these are wonderful stories.
Doe has long had a deep love for writing, dating back to high school. At Denver South High School, she was on the staff of a literary magazine called Folio Leaves, then decided to major in English while in college.
“(Writing) was the only thing I could do,” she said.
While Doe was on sabbatical in California, her sister had her write affirmations: “I am a promising young poet. “I am a writer.”
“Now I’m a poet and a writer, and the affirmations have come true,” Doe said. “And I really appreciate having a whirlwind of a pen, being able to do that and teaching others how to do it.”
Doe has lived in Denver long enough to consider herself a Colorado native. She moved to the city when she was 5 years old and eventually graduated from Denver South, one of Denver’s original four high schools. After earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Doane University, she thought the brand new Metropolitan State College would be a great place to make ends meet while working on her master’s degree.
His time at MSU Denver was often adventurous. Long before the national movements began, Doe was part of an anti-racist, gender-neutral improv theater group with students and other faculty members. In a field that predominantly employed men, she also protested to hire more women on the faculty.
“We were all fiery feminists,” she recalls. “And we were going to fight for not having enough female faculty members.”
During her decades as a teacher, Doe has seen Denver’s culture and society change dramatically. While the movement to hire female faculty finally took off, the last hires were the first to be fired when the University reached a financial requirement.
She also remembers a time when women were afraid to report sexual assault.
“There weren’t as many people speaking out as there are in MeToo,” Doe said. “But now, when I hear people speaking up, I’m not surprised. Because you only have to be a woman to know that it’s a difficult situation.
Doe also once participated in a street class led by former MSU Denver professor Charles Angeletti, where she and others spent four nights on the street to gain first-hand experience and empathy for what homeless people experience. Through the exercise, she also discovered resources for the homeless, an unsettling experience that gave her great appreciation for her life.
With the rise of homeless camps in downtown Denver, Doe remained passionate about solving the problem.
“If we could do something for the homeless, that would be very important because it’s become a fungus,” Doe said. “It’s big, and it’s everywhere, and it’s disheartening and heartbreaking.”
In 1975, Doe had been teaching for about 10 years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said.
Faced with mortality, Doe goes on an adventure with her loved ones. She took a sabbatical with her sister and two young children and transferred her chemotherapy to California, the land of personal growth therapy. She lived in Berkeley and traveled to San Francisco to walk on hot coals and do a revival session in a hot tub.
“It was an adventure,” she said.
While at Berkeley, Doe researched the works of her late great-uncle, artist Ray Boynton, and decided to become an author. But six months into her research, her sabbatical was over and she needed more time, so she taught at San Francisco State University to make ends meet until she be ready to go home.
Before returning permanently to MSU Denver, Doe undertook a fellowship with The Institute on Writing, a joint project of the University of Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities, to develop a freshman composition curriculum, so that ‘she can bring it back and teach the program to other faculty members. Doe was an English teacher to pay the bills, but poetry has always been his love.
“I went under the flag of composition, but in my heart I was a poet,” Doe said. “It was an exciting time and I was writing passionate things. And now I couldn’t think of publishing them, and I wish I had worked harder at it, but I didn’t. I worked hard to teach students.
While in Iowa — “the great mecca of writing,” she said — she discovered the University’s Writing Center and knew she had to bring the idea back to MSU. Denver.
Develop the writing center at MSU Denver hasn’t been easy. At first, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education thought the center was a catch-up program and resisted. Doe argued that “writing is a communal activity”.
“You need a lot of people who listen and provide input, then get information, then adjust and give more information,” she said.
In the end, Doe won, and the writing center is still going strong today.
A poem for your travels
After earning her doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado, Doe realized she wanted to write a book before she died. With all the material she gathered in California, she began working on a biography of Boynton. Doe is still working on the biography, with only a few chapters to go.
In 1999, Holly House published her first collection of poems, “Lies and Promises”. She has also published collections of poetry written by Doe and his students, including “Silver Edge”, “Poems From an Ethnic Festival”, and “A Thousand Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Earth: Poems on Gas Fracking”. She self-published “Trip and Return” in 2017, which was written about her first 50 years at MSU Denver.
“I was in a hurry,” Doe said. “If you send a poem to a magazine, it takes them a few months, maybe a few years, to tell you whether they’ll take it or not. And that doesn’t interest me that much.
In 2021, she edited and contributed “Away to Santa Fe: A Collection of Santa Fe Trail Poems”, an ode to her long involvement with the historic Santa Fe Trail Association.
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Her poetic travels are not limited to the Southwest, since she has also known Egypt, Great Britain, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, France, Peru, India and the Republic Czech.
Her love for travel and writing has also made her a strong supporter of the fight against climate change. She belongs to several conservation organizations and wants to be even more active now that she is retiring.
“We have to save the environment,” Doe said. “We don’t have a planet if we don’t have an environment. There is only one Earth.
As a climate change activist, homeless empathetic, and fighter against racism and sexism, Doe understands what it’s like to be mired in the weight of trying to fix everything. His best advice for young activists is to “visit your own garden”.
“I thought the best thing I could do was be an example and work on my own stuff and try to do my own stuff more successfully,” Doe said.
Now that Doe has taught his last class, his retirement plans are a work in progress, other than his determination to finish his book on Boynton. The only chapters left to write concern the retirement and the death of the artist, but she does not intend to follow these traces.
“First you retire, then you die,” Doe said. “What a scenario. You think people embrace this with open arms saying, “I love retirement!
“Well, I intend to stay here long enough. I can finish this book, finish this chapter, do something with the paintings (of Boynton) and send the papers to Berkeley. Let it all go.
“And then I’ll see what’s next. On top of that, you should still write a poem a day.