As a tenured faculty colleague who is currently teaching a course in our School of Law, I’ve experienced firsthand the panic of suddenly transitioning to the remote-teaching environment in mid-semester. I want to echo the messages of gratitude from President Schill and Provost Phillips, and offer my appreciation for all of the sacrifices that you are already making to ensure that all of our students continue to receive a high-quality education at the UO.
As you are aware, many of our students are in precarious situations, and as a result, the way that we show up in our classrooms will have a very real impact on their academic success and overall wellbeing. We therefore need to be exceptionally caring and present in interacting with our students, especially remotely. As a parent and a faculty colleague, I’m writing to raise awareness about some of the invisible challenges around equity and inclusion that many of our graduate and undergraduate students are facing, and to ask for your support in addressing them.
COVID-19 is axiomatically shining a “bright light” on what Gloria Ladson-Billings and other researchers refer to as the “education debt”; the idea that our students come to the university against the backdrop of historical, economic, socio-political, moral decisions and policies that characterize our unequal society. Consider the following situations that all too many of our UO graduate and undergraduate students continue to face:
- Many of our students live in households as well as rural and tribal communities, where these services are either unavailable or not affordable.
- Domestic violence has increased during the COVID-19 crisis and some of our students are now living in environments where verbal, physical and/or psychological abuse is a daily reality.
- According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 3.4 million American children live with parents between the ages of 18 and 24. Some of those parents are our students, and they are frequently parenting without a partner while studying, teaching and sharing technology with their own children.
- For our African American and Native students in particular, as well as other students of color as well, whose community members are reportedly dying disproportionately from COVID-19, many are currently studying under the cloud of both grief and uncertainty.
- We have students with cognitive and physical disabilities whose overall successes depend on specific accommodations that are strained in the remote learning environment.
- Asian American students and their families are experiencing blame and scapegoating for a virus for which they are not responsible, while harassment and discrimination against Jewish, Muslim and other students of color is on the rise.
- Our international students are contending with different time zones and varying levels of English proficiency.
- Unemployment can add an additional layer of stress for first generation students students of color, and immigrant and DACA students whose employment is crucial for survival.
Despite these impediments, our students are doing their best to thrive. Following are five ways that we can actively support our students’ academic careers during this precarious time:
- Find additional ways and means of showing kindness, listen closely when students are asking for help, and respond to their needs with patience and resourcefulness. Assume good intent. Just as our Provost has offered faculty the opportunity to stop their tenure/promotion clocks, and suspended all non-critical service obligations, in turn let’s find creative ways to enhance learning and care for our students.
- If you are struggling to adapt your teaching to the remote environment, avail yourself of the resources of the Teaching and Engagement Program (TEP). Find ways to adjust workload expectations in ways that are reasonable for you and your students. TEP is committed to your success as a teacher, and hosts a wealth of resources and tools, timely news and workshops, personal consultations, and a blog where you can connect and share advice with your colleagues.
- Remember that students with technology and other access issues are bona fide students with legitimate needs that we must be willing to address. We should never ask them to drop our classes because of access issues. Be proactive with communicating to your students, listen to understand their issues and adapt course materials so that they can be accessed via phone and other devices. Ensure that your assignments, assessments and workloads, under current circumstances, are reasonable.
- Attendance is not to be graded this term. Our students are accessing our classrooms from time zones all over the world, and with differing levels of internet access. Some may be caregivers for sick relatives or children, or have unpredictable schedules, or be in a home with under-resourced or competing tech needs. Please make sure there are asychronous ways for students to engage with you as an instructor and access course content such as recorded class session/lectures, and office hours – both scheduled and by appointment.”
- Consider adopting relevant parts of the L.A.C.E. – Love, Authenticity, Courage and Empathy framework. L.A.C.E. is an aspect of my own research, and is not an official UO policy or framework. However, the concepts, when used in ways that are consistent with UO policies and practices, are helpful in facilitating engagement, active learning strategies and to diffusing “hot moments” in the classroom. You can learn more about L.A.C.E. here. Know that our Division of Equity and Inclusion team and I are available to talk through any equity-related concerns that you are dealing with in your classes. For prompt assistance or appointments, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, I want to stress that the UO’s anti-discrimination policies and our commitment to equity, inclusion and diversity are as important as ever in the online environment. These protections are for the protection of students and faculty alike. Staff from DEI and our Center for Diversity and Community, as well as TEP, are available to discuss issues of equity and inclusion issues in the classroom. If you have questions about reporting instances of harassment or discrimination, please contact the Office of Investigations and Civil Rights Compliance. If you, as a faculty member, are experiencing harassment or forms of discrimination from students, please contact the Office of Conduct and Community Standards for support in addressing and resolving these issues. Self-care and self-empathy are important during these challenging times.
Every one of us has had to face enormous personal challenges in this uncertain environment, and we appreciate all that you have done to adapt in such a short period of time. As compassionate members of our faculty, we are best positioned to help our students to weather this storm and, in the process, ensure they continue to receive the very best education the UO has to offer. Let’s do our part in helping them to succeed.
Take good care,