Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the time of Coronavirus

Courtesy of the Diversity Leadership Team here at SCH:

As we finish this year and look ahead to the opening of school in the fall, it's important that we are educated so that we can provide support and access for every student in our community. 

Disproportionate Impact on Communities of Color 

Communities of color are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates than other demographic groups with worse health outcomes for those who contract the virus. This is particularly impacting Black and Latinx communities. Not only is coronavirus amplifying social inequities that existed prior to the pandemic, but also communities of color have higher percentages of essential workers and less access to care. This fact can be impacting our students in numerous ways. For example, our students of color may be more likely to know someone sick with COVID-19. Hearing this news, even if they don’t know someone impacted, can raise stress levels if they perceive themselves or their family members as more at risk.

Keep in mind that this stress is added to the challenges our students of color already face both by attending a predominantly white institution and living with systemic racism. For example, watching and processing the news about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery can be traumatic or harmful. Doing so without as much social interaction, a greater opportunity to withdraw, and at a time of heightened vulnerability can be impactful on mental health.

Racism/Xenophobia

Since the coronavirus began, instances of racism and xenophobia directed at Asians and Asian Americans have been on the rise. It is very likely that students have come across racist memes and social media posts or have heard comments by public figures. Our students may be subjected to these remarks in conversations with peers or family members. They may be hesitant to discuss their feelings around the coronavirus for fear of racist/xenophobic reactions. As educators, we should be on the lookout for hate and bias, respond to hate/bias as we witness it, and create safe spaces where students feel that they can share without judgment. 

Mental Health

Considering our students’ mental health during social distancing is at once crucial and more difficult without being able to observe them in person. Students who struggled with their mental health before digital school may find themselves without some of their usual coping mechanisms or facing more triggers. Other students might be struggling who have not in the past. Though it’s harder to find one on one time where a student can talk with you privately, carve out moments at the end of advisory or by reaching out to a student by email if you notice a change in behavior or cause for concern. It’s difficult because many students seem withdrawn or unlike themselves, but a friendly email checking on a student is unlikely to be wasted, regardless of how serious their concerns are. Offering non-content based questions in a conclusion or exit ticket is sometimes an opening for them to articulate a feeling. Shannon shared that during a meeting with several of our peer schools' school psychologists/school counselors, everyone is seeing an increasing number of students with loss of motivation related to chronic stress associated with the pandemic. This certainly applies to adults as well. There still may be big shifts for students even though we’re close to the end. Continue to offer suggestions to your advisees about how they can connect with their peers and combat social isolation. We can also start giving them ideas for how they can do so once Summer begins. One good resource is the Mental Health Awareness emails from the Counseling Team that they are sharing each week this month. Consider using these as conversation starters with your advisory. 

Body Image

Our students are spending more time looking at their image as they attend their daily google meets and attempt to stay in contact with family and friends. Navigating physical changes of puberty, from growing bodies to acne, can range from distracting to distressing. Though it can be frustrating to teach to blank screens, having to confront their image can motivate some students to keep their cameras off. The connection between social media use and negative body image is well established, and our students are spending more time than ever on social media. The countless messages about food, weight, and exercise students absorb while isolated, experiencing a change in routine, and analyzing their own image more can trigger negative feelings in our students. Eating disorders often thrive in silence and there is much about social isolation that can exacerbate these conditions. Finally, there can be an increased onus on trans students when encountering their image. Dysphoria for trans kids is being reported as up.

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