By Philippe Izedian
Gathering on Zoom, James Ford, Senator Valerie Foushee, Dr. MariaRosa Rangel, and Matthew Bristow-Smith spoke on a panel about racial equity in education during the coronavirus pandemic moderated by Dr. Lauren Fox.
To start the conversation, when asked how the coronavirus has impacted racial equity in education, State Senator Foushee stated that African American children, those from rural communities, and those from less advantaged economic backgrounds faced issues of access. Such students were often unequipped with devices and high-speed internet, prohibiting them from joining classes with their peers. Also, the lack of in-school meal programs and after school programs has taken away the structure many students rely upon. As Bristow-Smith put it, schools ought to serve “students who need school to be more than [an academic setting] for them.”
Bristow-Smith later talks about the acceleration that the coronavirus has caused for his school district in Edgecombe county. He states that before the coronavirus pandemic, Edgecombe was already “disrupting the way [they] did school,” but that this occurrence sped up that process. I found it especially noteworthy that these changes occurred in the classroom and administration through a new organization chart in the main office and more innovative teacher + administration pipelines. Ford follows up by saying how the pandemic has revealed the “pre-existing conditions of systemic racism” from both data and human-centered perspectives. He discusses how systemic racism “robs people of opportunity” through examples such as how Black and Hispanic students were the ones most likely to start classes online. They were also the ones most likely to face difficulties accessing that method of instruction, showing no good solution exists in such scenarios.
I much enjoyed hearing the panelists’ responses to Dr. Fox’s question about what action they would recommend being taken to address the racial inequities highlighted and exacerbated by the coronavirus. Dr. Rangel’s point about schools creating a center where families and students could get help–or be connected with it—would allow for the more expedient resolution of difficulties that people often do not know how to begin tackling. It could also be staffed with multilingual staff members, eliminating barriers in accessing assistance. Ford provided a glimpse into some of the great work already being done, including laying the groundwork for an educational equity office in the state. Senator Foushee circled back to her idea of funding high speed internet for students who don’t have it. Living on Duke’s campus, I often take connectivity as a given, and I struggle to imagine what my academic life would look like without it. Truly, I can support her idea that ensuring access to the internet is fundamental to creating an equitable learning environment in our schools. She also encourages the North Carolina legislature to fund the $427 million necessary to fix the findings of the Leandro v. State of North Carolina case. Bristow-Smith summed up all of the points at the end by proclaiming schools should “do what’s best for students.”
That last point truly resonated with me. Keeping students at the forefront of every action is something that I find to be beautiful, for it loads the decision-making process with empathy and care. I have always greatly appreciated when decisions feel like they have been made both with students in mind and in conjunction with students. It, therefore, made me quite excited to hear that that was what Bristow Smith recommended— “codesign[ing]” curriculums with communities. All in all, this session of the Color of Education convention was enlightening to me, both as a relative newcomer to North Carolina and as someone who is establishing his interest in educational equity (and defining what that is).