Equity in the COVID-19 Crisis: Part One of Two
KConnect is emphasizing the role that equity — or the historical absence of equity — is playing in the crisis that is currently underway, and to compel all of us — individuals, organizations, and systems — to recognize that with the present pain also comes an opportunity to reset structures and systems with authenticity and intentional design that rejects a blanket universal approach and rather takes into consideration the unique needs of populations; their situatedness and specific needs.
To gain a deeper understanding of the COVID-19 healthcare and other impacts, we convened a panel of experts in a variety of roles in our community, including Dr. Juan Olivarez, the Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy.
In the time of COVID-19, how are we seeing structural racism show up in education?
Dr. Olivarez: Regarding K–12 students, I’m really concerned about what we’re going to see next — this deficit that we’ve always known about of the educational gap; it often gets pushed under the rug, but now we see that it is a big deal. Schools are part of our democracy, where students learn and prepare for careers and vocations. To lose time in this educational process will affect our black and brown students the most. This is going to be very, very impactful on students. Think about the learning every single day that they’re not getting. This is going to be devastating, and we haven’t seen anything yet in terms of the ramifications for our K–12 kids. The harm is going to be everywhere, but it’s going to be toughest on the youngest kids because they are losing out on the most.
Then there are many parents who are not equipped; they don’t have the skills to teach their children at home. Teachers are also not equipped to be teaching totally online — even on the college level. It takes a lot of work, preparation, training, and support that they really haven’t had. The faculty I’ve talked to at different colleges are really struggling with what to do and how to do it, and basically they’re all lowering their standards. For our kids, it’s going to really matter when we talk months of this.
I also want to reflect on higher ed with students having to leave campuses. For many of our students, the dilemma is that they may not have anywhere to go and that’s been a struggle for colleges to maintain some semblance of dormitory life. Students are needing to go home, but home isn’t necessarily conducive to a learning environment perhaps due to lack of space, technology, etc. The stress on the college kids is enormous. Graduates are missing out on career fairs — our students of color rely on those because they don’t have the networks that other students have through family, acquaintances, parents’ jobs, and so forth. Those that are in the sciences or technical fields where you need to fulfill practicum requirements by the accrediting agencies, once again, it’s great to relieve all of those requirements but it’s scary. What do you do when you haven’t had the full training yet? It’s a tough situation and very stressful for our students who need to graduate and move on.
The big realization in all of this is the digital divide — access to equipment at home and lack of wifi. We should have wifi in our neighborhoods.
If anything, this pandemic has really illuminated the issue of structural racism and societal racism. 80% of our citizens go from check to check; they have nothing to fall back on, no safety net. A large portion of that 80% are African American, Latinx, Native Americans, and so on that are struggling every single day. They didn’t need a pandemic to realize the problems of accessing jobs and earning livable wages or the difficulty of actualizing prosperity.
In addition, the fear and emotional stress that undocumented workers are going through is unimaginable. The fear is not just the disease — if they have to end up in a hospital, what does that mean? They worry whether the authorities will find out about them. People are afraid that they’re going to be discovered and teams are going to come and start taking them away. This fear is always there, but this is far worse — it is really making people fall apart emotionally.