We originally intended this post to be another contribution to our attempt to provide context and guidance to those in higher education who are thinking about how to plan and prepare for fall.
And then, last week, George Floyd was brutally killed by a Minneapolis police officer, all of which was captured on camera. The country is on fire. People everywhere rightly protest against a culture that continues to allow black men to do so. This week, much of our attention has necessarily deliberately shifted from preparing for autumn to trying to understand how this kind of horrific act can continue here.
At such a time, it is difficult to write for a blog about higher education. The challenges we face are part of a fundamental fabric and legacy of racism that manifests itself daily in actions ranging from the micro to the terrible.
in the Attack on American ExcellenceAnthony Kronman, former dean of Yale Law School, argues that issues of justice and access, fairness and egalitarian values should have no place in the aristocratic ideal of higher education, where everything depends on excellence, not equality or justice. He argues that these are social and political issues that belong to the public but not to higher education. It is hard to imagine how someone could so deliberately ignore the impact of institutional and individual racism on the success of our color students. It is hard to imagine, not only in the shadow of Calhoun College, but also in the shadow of the violent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, that you can succeed and do outstanding work.
All of higher education saw with brutal clarity how many of our students were under-served when schools and universities switched to distance learning in spring 2020. Many of our most vulnerable students in schools across the country struggled to access reliable and fast internet. Many of our students across the country couldn’t find a quiet place to study, just as many more were needed to take on more responsibility and support their families at home.
As if it hadn’t been painfully clear before, we all need to understand what it means to be an inclusive learning community. When we think about autumn, we need to work to understand that good pedagogy is inclusive, regardless of what mode we are in next September. We need to recognize that many of our students are encouraged to learn while experiencing traumatic circumstances, events and confrontations, conditions that make it practically impossible to succeed without support and care.
This means reaching our students now. Ask them what they need. It means listening to our students’ stories and working to include their voices in the classroom conversation that includes all voices. It means being a mentor and a voice of support for our students when faced with the terrible reality we are going through.
We cannot be successful in the fall or in the future unless we realize that we need to stand with our students and understand what it means to ask them to learn in the shadow of George Floyd’s murder.
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