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How Can We Talk About the Fall Right Now?

Thinking about George Floyd.

May 31, 2020
 
 

We originally intended this post to be another in our attempt to provide some context and guidance for those in higher education thinking about how to plan for and prepare for the fall.

And, then, last week George Floyd was brutally killed by a Minneapolis police officer, all of which was caught on camera. The country is on fire. People everywhere are rightly protesting a culture that continues to allow this to happen to black people. This week, much of our attention has necessarily, purposefully shifted from preparing for the fall to trying to understand how this kind of horrific act can continue to happen here.

It is difficult to write for a blog on higher education at a time when, for black men, access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are existentially threatened. The challenges we face are part of a fundamental fabric and legacy of racism that continues to manifest daily in acts that range from the micro to the horrific.

In Assault on American Excellence, the former dean of Yale Law School Anthony Kronman argues that questions of equity and access, of fairness and egalitarian values, should have no place in the aristocratic ideal of higher education, where all depends on excellence, not equality or equity. He argues that these are social and political questions that belong in the public sphere but not in higher education. It’s difficult to imagine how someone like Kronman could so intentionally ignore the effect institutional and individual racism have on the success of our students of color. It’s difficult to imagine studying, succeeding, excelling not only in the shadow of Calhoun College but in the shadow of the violent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

All of higher education saw with brutal clarity how many of our students were underserved when schools and colleges moved to remote instruction in spring 2020. Many of our most vulnerable students at schools all across the country had trouble accessing reliable and high-speed internet. Many of our students across the country could not find a quiet place to study, just as many more were needed to take on greater responsibilities to help support their families at home.

As if it was not painfully clear before, we all need to embrace what it means to be an inclusive learning community. As we think about the fall, we need to work to understand that good pedagogy is inclusive pedagogy, regardless of whatever mode we find ourselves in come September. We need to recognize that many of our students are being asked to learn while living through traumatic circumstances, events and confrontations, conditions that make it virtually impossible to succeed without support and care.

This means reaching out to our students now. Asking them what they need. It means hearing our students’ stories and working to bring their voices into the conversation of the classroom in ways that include all voices. It means being a mentor and a voice of support for our students when they are faced with the horrible reality we are living through right now.

We cannot be successful in the fall or in the future if we do not recognize our need to stand with our students and understand what it means to ask them to learn in the shadow of George Floyd’s killing.

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