Home » What The Pandemic Taught Us About Inequality In College

What The Pandemic Taught Us About Inequality In College

by Black America Web

Elise, a nursing student at an elite U.S. university in the Northeast, found herself back home and sleeping on the floor of her parents’ one-bedroom apartment after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020.

It was tough to get a good night’s sleep as family members passed through to the kitchen or the front door. Such interruptions also made it difficult to concentrate during lectures and exams. Sometimes, limited internet bandwidth made it impossible for Elise to attend class at all. She couldn’t ask her parents to buy her a new computer to replace the one that was breaking down, she explained, because she knew they couldn’t afford it.

Meanwhile, Elise’s classmate, Bella, a business student and the daughter of two Ivy League-educated professionals, had two empty bedrooms at her parents’ home. She used one for sleep, the other for schoolwork. Her parents had purchased “a monitor and all these other accessories to help make studying easier.”

As a doctoral candidate in sociology, I study inequality among young adults. Elise and Bella are two of the 48 undergraduates I interviewed to understand how college students from different socioeconomic backgrounds dealt with COVID-19 campus closings. Although all attended the same elite university, upper-middle class students like Bella often enjoyed academic and financial benefits from parents that their less affluent peers like Elise did not.

Just because most college students have gone back to in-person classes doesn’t mean these disparities have gone away. Here are three lessons from the pandemic that can help colleges better address student inequality going forward:

1. The digital divide disrupts learning

Elise wasn’t the only student in my study who didn’t have the learning technology she needed. “It was a solid two and a half weeks where I didn’t have a laptop,” said Shelton, a social sciences major, describing how he wrote a four-page research paper on…

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