by Allison N. Ash, Ph.D.
Senior Affiliate Consultant, Credo
The COVID-19 world pandemic has created academic, social, and financial crises on our campuses and has quickly and dramatically changed the landscape of higher education. Educational leaders across the country are attempting to respond to these crises by determining safe and effective models for their educational systems. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has been one of the most deadly and disruptive viruses in over a century. However, there is another disruptive and even deadlier virus that reveals another pandemic that has been invading our country for centuries: the virus of racism within our country as a whole and within higher education specifically.
Although the COVID-19 virus has impacted our higher education system for about the last seven months, the virus of racism within the higher education system has been present since its inception and has both overtly and insidiously created a crisis that has never been adequately addressed. In fact, the federal Department of Justice has consistently reported that third on the list of locations for ethnicity-related hate crimes is the educational system as a whole (Criminal Justice Information Service, 2013, 2018). In the midst of COVID-19, our attention was sharply turned to the crisis of our country’s racial pandemic with the murder of George Floyd—images that captured the kind of racial violence that has been perpetrated against Black communities for centuries. As educators, we have students enrolled in our institutions who represent a collection of experiences based on this racial violence: students who are consistently experiencing their own racial trauma, students who are in pain, students who are terrified, students who are angry, students who are unsure of how to respond, and even students who remain unaware of the seriousness of the racism within and around them.
Therefore, we are in the midst of two colliding pandemics.
This collision can be overwhelming, but there are also lessons learned from campus responses to COVID-19 that can be applied to navigating the pandemic of racism and racial injustice.
We have heard campus leaders and community members describe their responses to COVID-19 that acknowledged and addressed their respective vulnerabilities, shifted long held or deeply rooted aspects of their culture that required immediate attention and transformation, and galvanized a collective effort on the part of the entire community to make critical change happen. Many institutions, within days, made sweeping changes to alter their ways of delivering and experiencing the learning environment. Educational communities were figuratively and literally transformed in ways we have never seen. These principles—naming the problem, understanding unique vulnerabilities, and uniting to address a deadly crisis—are principles that are required to wholly engage both pandemics.
Before engaging the problem, however, we need to understand it. What if we conceptualized the problem of racial injustice by comparing it to the process of building and living in a house—including the home’s occupants and their experiences? For example, campus systemic structures are similar to a home’s foundation; the structural diversity of students and employees could be likened to a home’s occupants; students’ diversity awareness and experiences of the racial campus climate are similar to the lived experiences one has within a home; and graduates’ preparedness to commit to racial inclusion are similar to one leaving a home.
We have watched, supported, and partnered with you as you have admirably navigated and disrupted many of the impacts of COVID-19; we believe in your communities’ ability to systemically address this country’s racial pandemic. As you seek to undertake this important work on your own campus, we would like to share a Campus Strategy Guide For Race & Inclusion Work.
As Credo learns from our campuses and prepares for higher education’s future, it is our commitment to address this work of equity and inclusion internally and by extension, connect ourselves, our partners, and our entire independent higher education community to resources. This lens of equity and inclusion underpins all our work, from Strategic Planning to Moving The Needle, our student success and retention partnership for individual institutions and cohorts.
We would appreciate hearing from you as you are learning, resourcing your community, and taking action. Talk to our Student Success Team any time by filling out a brief form and letting us know a little bit about your institutional context. Within a day, we will be in touch to set up a time for us to talk about race, equity, inclusion, student success, and retention on your campus.
We appreciate the opportunity to build a strong, sustainable future for higher education together with you.