We are increasingly seeing COVID-19 hitting racialized, socio-economically challenged people and communities harder than other population groups. We are witnessing this in reports from the United States, with the heavier impact of the virus in black communities, and in an article in the New York Times yesterday raising concerns about this disparity within Latino populations, and here in our own province among Indigenous and northern communities.
COVID-19 underlines more than ever why we must face and challenge inequities in our college and beyond. At the College of Medicine, Research Equity & Diversity Specialist Erin Prosser-Loose and researcher Catherine Trask have started a study on how COVID-19 is impacting those already facing challenges related to equity and diversity. They have collected early data through a survey of our broader USask community, with plans to expand the scope to include national data in the coming weeks.
Erin is leading the study and recently walked our dean’s executive team through early findings.
The data showcases both positive and negative experiences. On the positive side, people have indicated they’ve felt well-supported with regard to information technology needs, and that mental health supports have been well-communicated. Teams are making excellent efforts among themselves to support one another, including through social connections like virtual coffee breaks.
Race-related issues included that some have found working from home has reduced their exposure to racism. While this was expressed as a positive outcome due to COVID-19 adjustments, it points to change we know is needed in our work environment. Also, racialized people expressed being disadvantaged in COVID-19-related changes impacting employment contracts and research opportunities. Some identified having witnessed racism against Asian people.
A gender-related issue identified by many was that primary caregivers, mostly women, are experiencing greater pressure managing childcare, homeschooling and work productivity.
A variety of work, career and financial impacts were brought forward. Pre-tenure faculty are concerned about research progress. It was expressed that tuition for online learning shouldn’t be as high as for face-to-face learning. International students are uncertain about their degree progress and are facing financial hardships. Rural and low-income students are disadvantaged due to internet access issues.
Generally, it was expressed that EDI and Indigenization are being sidelined because of COVID-19, with more conventional issues getting priority. Given how I opened this blog, this is clearly the opposite of what is needed now (and at all times).
Survey participants indicated that the causes of inequities being experienced were based most on power differentials, followed by race, then gender. Participants suggested solutions, including denouncing racism, acknowledging primary caregivers, placing health and wellness ahead of productivity, and extending promotion timeframes. From my own perspective, in particular we do need to denounce racism and continue work towards eliminating it; we must think about how we support and acknowledge primary caregivers, most often women; and our leadership team needs to further explore as a college how we can address issues highlighted by this survey.
Again, I do want to reiterate that information I’m sharing is preliminary. The survey is ongoing and different issues are likely to come up as the situation with the pandemic continues to change.
For our staff, students and faculty (and anyone at USask), if you haven’t already, please take the survey.
Some other information related to this blog topic:
- Data gaps on COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities
- How to address equity as part of COVID-19 incident command