Alisson Rowland, School of Social Sciences
The US’s poor welfare infrastructure, combined with the devastation of Covid-19, has perpetuated racist educational inequities (Kyeremateng, Oguda, Asemota 2022; Johnson-Agbakwu et al. 2022). Sonya Douglass Horsford, Associate Professor of Education Leadership and Director of the Black Education Research Collective, along with her research team, released a report titled: Black Education in the Wake of Covid-19 and Systemic Racism: Toward a Theory of Change and Action. According to Horsford, “the research speaks to the magnification of the historic systemic failures affecting Black students, families, and communities deepened by the triple pandemics of Covid-19, the resulting economic recession, and heightened racial violence.” (TC Columbia 2021). Though instructors and students have created innovative methods to persist, it is undeniable that the pandemic has altered educational spaces. I discuss some of the implications of these shifts in remote learning, and transitioning back to in-person, for educational equity.
Merged Home and Classroom
The “new normal” of remote learning has been a difficult transition for students and faculty alike. Acknowledging the communal effects of isolation have become secondary nature – many of us are tired and running on fumes. But what may be minor inconveniences for some present insurmountable obstacles for others. For example, the abrupt move to online learning in March 2020 assumed every student had: 1) regular and secure internet access, 2) a personal computer/one they have access to for hours at a time, and 3) a quiet personal space to “attend” online classes. We know this to be far from the truth, with students of color and low-income students disproportionately affected by digital inequalities (Harper 2020). The impact of remote/hybrid learning will be lasting; what does this mean for our students and the way we teach?
Our best practice should be to incorporate a variety of readings and resources that are open-access and accessible (including, but not limited to, websites integrated with screen readers). There are systemic barriers limiting both what instructors can offer, and what students have access to. But we can advocate (alongside our students) for institutions which purport to care about social justice and equity to provide necessary resources such as laptops and hotspots, rather than passing the costs on to students themselves. Research on effective online learning indicates it is essential for students to have these tools to succeed (Garcia, Weiss 2020). It also means greater safety protocols when remote learning ends – implementing social distancing requires physical space, staff upkeep, and sanitation resources that may not be in high supply.
Food and Housing Insecurity
It is important to keep in mind that inequity does not begin, or end, in the classroom. While providing open access resources will help “equalize” student access to course materials, it does little for our students who are facing housing and food insecurity. Though many campuses offer on-campus housing and meal plans/programs for students, these resources are ill-positioned to reach those who had to leave campus when closures occurred, or who live off campus (as many at UCI do!). Some students do not have stable housing and/or are subject to high food insecurity without this support (Harper 2020). We cannot make assumptions about our students (that they are fed regularly, that they have a personal space, that they have heating/cooling) without furthering inequities in the classroom. Though faculty may not be equipped to address these concerns, creating more flexible pedagogy practices and being informed of campus resources that can are ways to mitigate these outcomes (Simon 2021).
Intersectional Issues Require Intersectional Pedagogy
This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of the barriers students face in our current learning climate (others include familial responsibilities, student’s as essential workers, heightening social divides). Recognizing how the above plays into student outcomes during Covid-19 closures, and also when we are fully back to in-person learning, is the first step to closing the gap. But merely acknowledging these realities does little if the classroom remains exclusionary and mute to these experiences.
Intersectional approaches can provide the necessary lens through which we can begin to address these inequities. Overlapping identities of race, class, gender, class, ability, and sexuality, to name a few, create complex pathways through which students navigate academia (Rastogi 2021). How do instructors do this work? There is no single way to do this; but based on my experiences with remote, hybrid, and in-person learning at UC Irvine there are three guiding takeaways:
- Creating a Community Classroom – An instructor creates an environment conducive to learning, critical thinking, and respectful student engagement.
- Multi-dimensional Learning – An instructor incorporates multi-modal forms of resources, including but not limited to readings, videos, worksheets, and learning software.
- Approachable and Informed – An instructor views their students holistically and communicates resources and services that will improve their academic/personal/professional lives.
An example assignment that incorporates these recommendations could be one that asks students to work in groups to create a piece of media or writing that reflects on the connections between their lesson plan of the day and a real-world event. Prior to delivering this assignment, the instructor would provide students with sample projects and designate a portion of class time to clarify any hurdles or questions. The instructor would create a flexible due date window that allows students more agency over their time management, while still adhering to the course schedule.
Just as students have struggled to engage in a post-Covid-19 learning environment, instructors have also struggled. The purpose of intersectional pedagogy is to recognize students are holistic people who navigate differential structural and interpersonal pressures, and make the space for instructors to challenge and alleviate these pressures.
COVID-19 and student performance, equity, and U.S. education policy: Lessons from pre-pandemic research to inform relief, recovery, and rebuilding. (n.d.). Economic Policy Institute. –https://www.epi.org/publication/the-consequences-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-for-education-performance-and-equity-in-the-united-states-what-can-we-learn-from-pre-pandemic-research-to-inform-relief-recovery-and-rebuilding/
Harper, S. R. (2020). COVID-19 and the Racial Equity Implications of Reopening College and University Campuses. American Journal of Education, 127(1), 153–162. https://doi.org/10.1086/711095
Henry, F., James, C., et. al. (2021). Impacts of COVID-19 in Racialized Communities. Royal Society of Canada.
Johnson-Agbakwu, C.E., Ali, N.S. (2022). Oxford, C.M. et al. Racism, COVID-19, and Health Inequity in the USA: a Call to Action. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 9, 52–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-020-00928-y
Kyeremateng, Rosina, et al. (2021). “Covid-19 Pandemic: Health Inequities in Children and Youth.” Archives of Disease in Childhood, vol. 107, no. 3, pp. 297–299., https://doi.org/10.1136/archdischild-2020-320170.
Rastogi, Vartika. (2021). “Lessons in Intersectional Feminism from Bell Hooks.” Feminism In India, https://feminisminindia.com/2021/01/06/bell-hooks-indian-feminism/.
Simon, Clea. (2021). “How Covid Taught America about Inequity in Education.” Harvard Gazette, Harvard Gazette, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/07/how-covid-taught-america-about-inequity-in-education/.
Teachers College, Columbia University. (2021). “New Research Shows Impact of Covid & Systemic Racism on Black Students, Offers Policy Recommendations.” Teachers College – Columbia University, Teachers College, Columbia University, https://www.tc.columbia.edu/articles/2021/july/new-research-shows-impact-of-covid–systemic-racism-on-black-students/.