Ensure an Equitable Education for all UNH Students during COVID-19 Pandemic

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of New Hampshire has relied on methods of online learning to enable the pursuit of higher education during these unprecedented times. The pandemic has caused international sanitary crises, loss of lives, economic hardships, and significant social costs. With this in mind, there is a clear inequity when analyzing the impact of online learning on people of color. Research has shown that online learners’ performance has a strong association with their demographic characteristics, such as regional belonging, socio-economic standing, education level, age, gender, and disability status. These factors significantly impact a student's ability to succeed when pursuing their education online to such an extent that NASPA characterized the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call to close the digital divide and address the lack of intentional planning and structure of technology-mediated education and advising.

    In our research, we found the relationship between intersectionalities of race and socioeconomic status, often produces a correlation that can be attributed to the systematic oppression of marginalized identities, which poses the possibility of even more inequalities in online learning. A report from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund found that “roughly 1 out of 7 [black people] and 1 out of 8 Latinos subscribe to broadband at home, compared to 26.1 percent of whites. One-third of Asians and roughly 1 out of 8 Native Americans have broadband at home.” This lack of accessibility to required technologies such as the internet reveals that students of color are systematically denied the resources required to succeed in a digital educational setting. Additionally, our research found that socioeconomic status has a significant influence on the accessibility of materials necessary in pursuing an education online. Low-income households are most impacted by digital unavailability, with more than 2 in 5 having only limited access to a computer or the internet. The inaccessibility of these resources is detrimental to the success of low-income students, many of whom are students of color due to the intersectionalities of race and socioeconomic status, in online learning programs. This leaves students of color at risk of falling behind academically, jeopardizing their fundamental right of receiving an equitable education in a setting that allows them to thrive.

    The University of New Hampshire claims states that “diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion are foundational values inextricably linked to achieving [their] educational mission.” Despite this claim of commitment, the University has yet to address the barriers of oppression that manifest in its online learning program. We demand that these issues be addressed through the implementation of a pass/fail grading system to ensure the success of students of color in a digital educational setting. In doing so, the University acknowledges the inaccessibility of resources necessary in the online pursuit of higher education due to the systematic oppression of marginalized identities. Hence, the grading policy will ensure ‘an environment of inclusive excellence where all students can thrive’ during the era of online learning.
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