In times of great crisis, America has depended on higher education to help bring stability to the nation. The Morrill Act of 1862, which established land grant colleges, was enacted during the Civil War. Decades later, Congress passed the G.I. Bill to assist World War II servicemen.
A panel of US college presidents told attendees at this week’s 2020 NACAC Virtual Conference that universities can play a similar role amid the coronavirus crisis. But colleges must adapt, and state and federal dollars are necessary to reach all those in need of support.
“In every moment of great strife and challenge in our nation…America leaned back into educating its citizens and used higher education as a force for good and a force for change,” said Daniel G. Lugo, president of Queens University of Charlotte (NC). “It is important that we not cede ground on what is right about us because, if we do that, we’ll never ever, ever get state governments or the federal government to think of us as a place to make more equitable investments.”
“…We do need to improve, we do need to be more self-conscious and aware,” Lugo added during the discussion, which was moderated by education journalist and author Jeff Selingo. “But too often we cede ground on how good we actually are.”
The work of colleges and universities has never been more urgent, education leader Michael Sorrell told attendees Thursday at the 2020 NACAC Virtual Conference.
In these unprecedented times, higher education institutions have a duty to both students and democratic society, said Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College (TX). History will judge the ways in which US colleges respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s continued shameful treatment of Black people, and the actions of the current presidential administration, Sorrell said at the conference’s closing session.
He urged attendees to look at what their institution could do differently in this time crisis, which has hit minorities particularly hard.
“I am an advocate of higher education, but I’m also critical of it,” said Sorrell. “I don’t think we’ve done enough, and I don’t think we are who we need to be. If we are honest, we produced the people who produced this moment. We need to fix it.”
Want to make life better for students (and your institution) amid the pandemic?
Speakers featured during a panel discussion on politics, government, and higher education at this week’s 2020 NACAC Virtual Conference offered two suggestions.
Pick up the phone.
“These are very tough times we are living in,” Paul Mounds, chief of staff for the governor of Connecticut, told attendees. “…This is not the time to be shy about your financial situation. This is not the time to be shy about the situations facing your students…Government needs to hear directly from you.”
Funding formulas, testing policies, and recruitment and retention strategies are just some of the areas that must be addressed by schools, colleges, and communities seeking equity and access for all students, celebrated antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi told attendees Tuesday at the 2020 NACAC Virtual Conference.
Racism is embedded throughout American society, he said. Dismantling such systemic injustice will require persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
“You can’t declare one day: I am antiracist,” said Kendi, bestselling author of How to be an Antiracist and other books examining race in America. “But you can say, I’m striving to be. You can say, I’m going to go on that journey.”
Although federal officials are urging colleges and K-12 schools to re-open for the fall, many institutions plan to continue virtual instruction or adopt a hybrid model that blends in-person and online learning.
And while much of the news surrounding the coronavirus is somber, some education experts think the expansion of more flexible learning options could be a good thing, particularly for postsecondary education.
Community colleges in California are coming together to address racism.
The California Community College Equity Leadership Alliance will allow school leaders and faculty from member institutions to pool their resources and learn from one another as they work to improve their campus climate.
Pride parades planned across the country this month were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but colleges are finding creative ways to celebrate.
LGBTQ-themed Netflix watch parties, online drag shows, and shoebox parade floats are among activities organized to keep students engaged and supported.
“There are a lot of people who are going to be coming here — either physically or online — in the fall, and they need to know there is an active community here for them, that there is support,” Frances Johnson, coordinator of the LGBTQ+ Pride Center at Texas A&M University, told Diverse. “Going to college is scary enough, but when you’re queer or from small (town) Texas or from come of these smaller areas, (college) may be your opportunity to come out…It’s about that representation and visibility.”