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American students and schools combat COVID-19 alone

By Kierra Gray

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COVID-19 exposed instabilities within the infrastructure of the American educational system at all levels, ostracizing students and forcing them to fight for learning necessities.

It's an understatement to say students across the country are facing unorthodox circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic. Grade schoolers aren't able to socialize causing them to lose out on crucial experiences in their development, and first-year students in college are forced to start their university careers in their parent's living room or quarantined in their dorms on campus.

Student well-being seems to be an afterthought. Some students are following the health guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), admittedly some are complying begrudgingly, while other students are resisting. However, many students have not been set up to succeed because there have been very few adequate plans implemented to facilitate continued learning for all students.

Overall students have been failed by the educational systems meant to serve them.

The Covid-19 guidelines didn't seem to halt athletics programs or curb campus parties. Kenyon College, a liberal arts college in Ohio, had an incident of athletes hosting a party and violating school health and safety guidelines. The college limited student visitors and required students to social distance, wear a mask, and receive approval from the Dean of Students to come to campus if they’re remote learning. According to the Kenyon Collegian, the athletics program followed the NCAA guidelines, but athletes who break protocol cannot be benched limiting accountability. This is not an isolated incident. College students and athletes across the country have been grappling with this pandemic.

Reportedly students are abiding by these regulations, but according to The New York Times there have been over 397,000 cases reported at more than 1,800 colleges. Among these cases, includes at least 90 deaths. Within Division I athletic departments, there have been 6,600 cases reported, which is undercounted because many departments didn’t release data.

Back in September, a group of students on the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor campus made videos criticizing the university's measures to protect the students who test positive for COVID-19.

As the semester continued, students voiced their concern through the GEO strike demanding safer restrictions for COVID-19 and the right to work remotely. Universities brought back football and other sports but didn't fully prepare for what it meant to bring back students during an unprecedented pandemic.

Chinelo Onuigbo, a University of Michigan social work graduate, says college students are struggling in unique ways based on their identities and backgrounds. Universities aren't helping the matter by acting as business entities instead of acting as educational institutions that care about the well-being of their students, especially during this pandemic.

"Many people were pressured into in-person interactions under the guise that they had a choice in the matter.... often, people with marginalized identities felt pressured to hold in-person classes to avoid retaliation or negative consequences at work. The school cares about money and, in turn, public perceptions. To be more specific, they care about how specific stakeholders view them," says Onuigbo.

Despite student's concern for their mental and physical health, it seems professors continue to require the same level of work from their students. Dequindre Wiggins, a University of Michigan's School of Social Work graduate, says he feels that school and personal boundaries are being disrupted.

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"Oftentimes I find myself feeling extremely violated when professors threaten to deduct points from my grade because I am uncomfortable being required to have my camera on at all times," says Wiggins. He mentioned that he and his colleagues complained about burnout and Zoom fatigue in their daily interactions with one another.

Onuigbo says, "Certain professors were adaptable and quite supportive throughout the course of the year. Others made life substantially harder." She noted her experience with professors enforcing unrealistic late assignment policies, inaccessible mandatory group projects with corresponding meetings. In general, there has been a lack of sensitivity, cultural competency, and humility, which has created additional burdens impacting her and her peers.

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While students experience burnout during this pandemic and the world doesn't know what's next, there are a few ways college administrators can support students. For example, creating a means to offer additional funding to students who present financial woes or placing a freeze on all students' tuition prices.

According to CNBC, for the 2020-2021 school year, tuition and fees increased by 1.1 percent for in-state students at public four-year institutions and 2.1 percent at private four-year colleges.

Some colleges have begun to implement a tuition freeze to assist with the financial burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, reported CNBC. The College of William and Mary in Virginia decided not to roll out the previously approved 3 percent tuition increase, and other schools that have followed suit; such as, Central Michigan University, Kansas City University, and Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania.

Though Onuigbo graduated in December, she offered solutions to help ensure students, faculty, and staff at universities feel safe, supported, and seen. Speaking directly from her experience at the University of Michigan, she says the university should "prioritize the health of students and budget with student well-being in mind." In addition, she believes the vulnerable communities being most impacted by the negligent responses to this virus should only be consulted for solutions when they provide consent.

"I would say having competent leaders in schools is crucial. Leadership should have prominent representation from marginalized communities with proper compensation in order to provide legitimate opportunities to be heard and create change," says Onuigbo.

What are some other direct methods schools can use to better support students and increase student learning? Comment below.

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