mask & money

It’s no secret that COVID-19 thrashed the education system as we knew it two years ago in almost every way imaginable. No student was entirely exempted from the consequences of the pandemic on their learning environment: the lockdown and its impacts on schools, social connections and general unpreparedness were nearly ubiquitous. 

However, that’s not to say that there was no difference in how various communities could handle these changes. In a perhaps unsurprising revelation, privileged students, myself included, had a far easier time dealing with the challenges of education over the past years and are likely to fare much better when the pandemic is over.

While nobody truly escaped the pandemic, one thing is clear: students and communities that already struggled in some capacity before 2020 had much more to lose. Even worse, these discrepancies come to fruition well before educational impact is even considered. 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is very open that racial and ethnic minority groups are at a significantly increased risk of hospitalization if they contract COVID-19, and they also provide a slew of reasons for why that might be. Discrimination, healthcare access, occupation, wealth and income gaps, or any number of other areas where minority groups may be struggling can all overlap to widen an already largely insurmountable gap.

As if those risks weren’t enough, education seems to be yet another field in which struggling and underprivileged communities come out on the bottom in a disaster event. A conglomeration of sources reviewed by the Office for Civil Rights shows us grim observations that the world of academia should seek to understand before trying to put the COVID-19 education system behind us. 

In K-12 education alone, students of color, disabled students and LGBTQ+ students have faced many barriers. Lack of access to technology or even food, mental health crises, and, for certain groups (namely Asian American and Pacific Islander students), an increased risk of discrimination are just some of the ever-expanding educational symptoms of COVID-19.

These concerns don’t just belong to K-12 education, though – disadvantaged post-secondary students aren’t without their own pandemic-induced set of hurdles. With all the unexpected costs (both monetary and societal) associated with COVID-19, post-secondary education has become more of a luxury that many underprivileged students cannot afford. 

In the 2020-21 academic year, many educational institutions that serve minority groups saw decreases in enrollment that “far outpaced” enrollment decreases in largely white peer institutions. That, however, is not the end of the challenges: even if minority groups can overcome the cost roadblock, their mental health may disproportionately suffer due to lowered access to school-based support systems.

The pandemic has turned out to be yet another unfortunate example that multiple sides exist for every story. While those of us who had our needs met in pre-COVID-19 education will survive in post-pandemic education, it is crucial not to forget and leave behind those not so privileged. Our responsibility is to work together as a community to support struggling groups and make sure we all flourish.