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Hiring Hoosiers: COVID-19 impacting higher education equity gaps

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 19:06:08-04

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INDIANAPOLIS — An organization is working help Black communities that are disproportionately affected by systematic racism and inequities in education.

“This is a chrysalis moment. The moment we’ve been waiting for," said Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America.

The moment when she says we can no longer ignore inequities and disparities among college and high school students, but instead are forced to address them.

“What I’m hearing from presidents is that they’re realizing they had a lot of blind spots," said Watson Spiva. They had no idea. Even though we’ve heard things about a black student sleeping in the common area and their dorm and somebody telling them they don’t belong there.”

Complete College America works with lawmakers and universities to institute policy changes to allow for more students to finish college.

“We’ve always looked to them for guidance around policy, around practice," said Dr. Kathy Johnson, IUPUI's executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.

IUPUI, Purdue University and the Indiana Commission of Higher Education are some of Complete College America's partners. They work constantly to review policies that might be old or outdated.

“Thinking about what are the barriers that we have structurally embedded in our systems that are impeding students from completing college," Watson Spiva said.

The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing many of those.

“If you do not have a laptop or some sort of technology to load into, people are having to do all of their homework and research on the phone," Watson Spiva said.

“Most institutions, I don’t want to say they were reticent to do online learning, much of it was, one, resources," Watson Spiva said. "It takes a lot of money to either equip students with laptops or WiFi or technology. But also to train and scale-up, we have a lot of faculty members and administrators.”

And recognizing, things will look much different come the fall, factoring in social distancing, health and safety procedures if someone in on-campus living does test positive for the virus.

“I was on a call with the CDC about how institutions would be able to reopen," Watson Spiva said. "And I’ll tell you, to be honest with you, at the end of that long call, I was like I don’t know if institutions are going to be able to do this.”

Not to mention, how current events have prompted people to speak out.

“Some institutions are doing surveys to their students," Watson Spiva said. "Some are also talking to alumni. Students are finding their voices. Faculty of color are also speaking up in ways that they haven’t in the past. So it’s going to be an interesting confluence between COVID-19 and this sort of new conversation.”

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