As college campuses across the nation continue to develop COVID-19 plans to address the pandemic, the impact that it will have on the work around diversity, equity and inclusion will have lasting outcomes. From barriers to access for underrepresented populations to an inability to persist toward completion due to financial constraints. When campuses try and return to some type of normalcy, faculty and staff will find that things are far from normal. Damon Williams in the COVID-19 DEI Crisis Action Strategy Guide (2020) stated that, “Wherever this situation takes us, we must respond with continued, even elevated, inclusive excellence. While a public health crisis, this situation is at its core a DEI crisis with the potential for flashpoints and serious damage at any moment—and it must be treated as such, in every step you and your institution take, in every communication.” Williams and many other DEI professionals have responded to the question of how we will navigate diversity, equity, and inclusion work in a situation we have never encountered. How will campuses handle Asian students facing overt racism and violence? Or students not returning because they lost campus jobs this past spring, jobs which supplemented their ability to finance their education? Or, the reprioritization of budgets with diversity and equity being on the low end of essential expenses? The critical work that diversity educators will engage in will be vastly different and social distance practices or virtual learning won’t be the solution because COVID-19 does not discriminate among people no matter what they believe, they value, or how they behave.
Often in times of crisis the perception is that the negative impact on work around diversity, equity and inclusion is going to be programmatic. This perception is why our work is so important in times such as we are experiencing now. Brown (2004) in an article, Diversity the Challenge for Higher Education, goes on to point out that “institutions of higher education do not only have a responsibility, but must assume leadership positions on this crucial issue of preparing citizens for the world they now face.” Diversity educators must assume responsibility beyond virtually booking speakers to educate about racism on campus or conducting a virtual forty-five-minute mandatory diversity training session. Diversity educators must guide and navigate the daunting task of impacting culture, values, and citizenship for our future well beyond COVID-19. Howard Bowen (1977), knew that higher education’s responsibility to advance social progress was mandatory in times of crisis. He stated that, “such advancement occurs not only through new scientific discoveries that improve the health and well-being of society, but also through the education of citizens and the next generation of office holders.” COVID-19 has presented diversity educators with an opportunity to assess cultural change through systematic and governmental responses such as social distancing or how we interact with each other physically within our daily campus business. But diversity educators must ask what this will mean around the topic of Title IX, harassment on campus, campus racism, and oppression. Diversity educators and practitioners must begin to think about how we can impact DEI work virtually through platforms that are different from the way things were pre-COVID-19.
Hurtado (2007) states that “a key impetus for linking diversity with central educational and civic goals is to better position the next generation of leaders for the project of advancing social progress.” Again, the work that is before us must be grounded in moving beyond how we utilize webinars, zoom meetings, and virtual training sessions. This can be a time when we address how we can reshape learning on college campuses around social justice, focused on civility and respect. Institutional practices, initiatives and engagement can create change and drive discussions for campus climate and inclusive practices. “Who will become the architects of new solutions to lingering social problems.” (Hurtado 2007).
As institutions develop plans for reopening, this is a critical time for diversity educators and practitioners to reshape messaging. It will be important for faculty and staff to continue to explore how to offer services virtually, but during this process a commitment should be made on exploring how we can reshape social norms, values, perceptions, and perspectives in times of new technology and learning platforms. We must be ahead of the curve on how social issues will manifest when students return to campus. How will the campus community discuss the impact of COVID-19 on under-represented students from cities in which the virus took its toll on families and communities? How will classroom seating change (with physical distancing) when an Asian American student sits next to a student that vocalizes their beliefs at the start of class? How will violence against women perpetuate itself following the significant increase in domestic violence against women after weeks of sheltering in place, within our counseling centers? These are questions that require “out of the box” thinking. As college campuses begin to think about how to return to “normal campus life” there will be a tendency to get back to “the way it was.” The challenge will be to change “the way it was” and create new opportunities that address campus oppression and social justice in a new way.
The following are ideas to consider:
- Develop a COVID-19 task force that explores and addresses potential issues that will impact campuses both now and when students return.
- Develop a statement of intolerance due to the pandemic. Below is Menlo College’s statement that addresses an approach to how the campus will, and currently, views social change.
“Menlo College prides itself in being an institution that welcomes community members from all around the globe. As such, we stand in solidarity with educators and students who condemn the racism and bigotry that so often emerges as a toxic byproduct of outbreak fears. Although disease outbreaks often disrupt the status quo of everyday functions, we would emphasize that epidemics are not an excuse for acting out of xenophobia, prejudice, or fear.”
- Coordinate and provide electronic resources such as Dr. Williams’ guide to address remote learning, dealing with social issues, and the impact on student success both academically and personally; as well as how to promote an inclusive learning environment in times of trauma and grief.
- Utilize professional resources such as NADOHE, NASPA, ACPA, and NCORE to find best practices to implement on your campus. Journals such as Inside Higher Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education will assist in addressing the impact this crisis has had on current and future issues related to the campus evolution post COVID-19.
Bowen, H. R. (1977). Investment in learning: The individual and social value of American higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Brown, L. (2004). Diversity: the challenge for higher education. Race Ethnicity and Education.
Hurtado, S. (2007). Linking Diversity with Educational and Civic Missions in Higher Education, The Review of Higher Education, John Hopkins University Press, Volume 30, Number 2.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Menlo College (2020) https://menlocollege.libguides.com/c.php?g=1009931&p=7415257
Williams, D. (2020). The COVID-19 DEI Crisis Action Strategy Guide: Recommendations to Drive Inclusive Excellence. National Inclusive Excellence Academy.