Bringing It #47: Supporting Students and Communities
Today’s Bringing It comes at a time of great anxiety—for educators, for colleges and universities, and perhaps most of all, for our students. Media and social media have been filled recently with stories of undergraduate parties and super-spreaders. There’s some truth to that, as campus outbreaks of COVID-19 make clear. But we’ve also been struck by the dogged resilience of students, whether they’re masked on campus or learning on screens. They’re swimming upstream, hard, to get their education, and an increasing number face inadequate housing, food, and paid work, along with the risk of illness. They need more support and less shaming. Today’s Bringing It has their precarity in mind.
The Great Colleges Network Tackles COVID-19
The Great Colleges for the New Majority Network is a group of adult-serving colleges and programs. They are uniquely suited to pivot in response to COVID-19 because their curricula are already grounded in the shifting realities and pressures of adult learners’ lives. Several schools in the Great Colleges Network have not only responded to the pandemic but created new opportunities for students to succeed under difficult circumstances. Our friends at College Unbound in Providence reported on some innovative examples of support:
Credit Resilience: Resilience is one of ten leadership and change competencies that College Unbound (CU) students must demonstrate before graduating. Every student who finished the Spring 2020 term was invited to submit a brief reflection to earn their credit for resilience. This reflection prompted students to think backwards, claiming their resilience even before COVID, and forwards, predicting how they will use the strength that they now see in themselves to achieve their goals.
Alternative Assessment Method: A large percentage of graduating students were front-line workers. The projects that they had developed during their time at CU were directly related to the work they were spending much of their waking hours doing to address immediate community needs. Rather than requiring that these students write reports on this work, we recorded project interviews with them. Amidst the stress of the pandemic, these interviews gave students a time to reflect on and have reflected back to them what they had accomplished. They also helped us recognize the power of structured interviews as a tool for assessing learning.
Pivoting: In our World and Workplace Labs, students develop their leadership and change projects. Due to shut downs, many of these projects stalled. Lab leaders had students apply their learning about leadership and change to the moment. For example, one lab collaborated to develop and share home-schooling resources. The immediate relevance of this work engaged and motivated students while also developing their understanding of collaborative work.
We’ve long admired College Unbound for its pedagogical creativity, its respect for the strengths and experience of adult learners, and its capacity to build a powerfully welcoming student community. The “traditional” academy has much to learn from CU’s response to its students’ needs and toughness in a time of crisis.
PLACE Spotlight: College of the Canyons (COC)
As readers of Bringing It know, the PLACE Collaboratory is BT2P’s civic engagement initiative, a network of community-university partnerships taking on big community issues as defined by community voice. College of the Canyons leads a project centered on housing insecurity in Los Angeles County’s Santa Clarita Valley. Co-PIs Jessica Edmond and Patty Robinson explain:
The city of Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Valley (SCV) are both blessed and cursed with the moniker of “Awesome Town.” Many individuals mock the notion that the city is flawless, an idyllic setting where community members thrive with little concern of the social issues plaguing the rest of Los Angeles County, including homelessness. As a result, many critics focus on the community’s deficits, not assets, recognizing the problem of housing insecurity and affordability only while neglecting the vast efforts of individuals and organizations to combat the issue first-hand.
Without housing security, it is difficult for individuals to create a “home,” establish roots or develop a sense of belonging, much less participate in civic, community, or democratic engagement. Neither personal nor community well-being thrives when housing insecurity prevails and the overall acts of belonging that help individuals flourish diminish. “Radical hospitality” is about finding community among those who are different, strengthening relationships and lessening conflicts through hospitable acts of kindness. COC’s PLACE project is aptly titled: Santa Clarita—Our PLACE, Our Home: Making the Invisible, Visible.
Developing activities for the project include a housing affordability sub-group of the City of Santa Clarita’s Homelessness Task Force, a community-based learning group composed of COC Honors students, community dialogues, vodcasts, and more. Students will create short video responses to the question “What is community and why is it important to you?” Our team also plans to collect short written responses and/or drawings to the above prompt to be included in a zine and an art exhibit.
Surviving COVID-19: A #RealCollege Guide for Students
For many college students, COVID-19 ushered in tremendous uncertainty. They not only face new educational challenges but threats to their housing, financial stability and physical and mental health. Their needs deserve support. Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice have published an important resource, Surviving COVID-19: A #RealCollege Guide for Students. The guide addresses common needs and offers resources to help students be healthy and continue their education. Whether you are a student in need or a faculty or staff member looking to help, this guide is a great place to start.
If there were ever a time for higher education to be a community of care, that time is now. Thank you for contributing to it.
David, Todd, Kate and Lily