Dive Brief:

  • New guidelines from the American College Health Association (ACHA) advise college officials on how to protect vulnerable campus populations as they respond to the pandemic.
  • ACHA offers recommendations relating to a number of demographic groups, and it advises colleges to be inclusive and communicative in their outreach.
  • The information comes as confirmed coronavirus cases climb into the hundreds on large campuses and research highlights the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color.

Dive Insight:

ACHA names Black, Asian American, first-generation low-income, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Native American, international and unauthorized students, as well as students with disabilities, as those who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. 

But that list is not exhaustive, the authors note, and students may fall into multiple categories.

They encourage colleges to involve students from these groups in their pandemic response and to deliver “transparent, frequent, branded, and simple” messaging. 

Other recommendations include:

  • Ensuring health and prevention messaging uses inclusive and culturally relevant imagery and language.
  • Considering internet connectivity issues when providing telemedicine options.
  • Educating and training providers in culturally competent care and treatment.
  • Offering on-campus housing for students whose family homes are not a safe or supportive option.
  • Providing financial assistance or grants to unauthorized students.

The authors also encourage institutions to be aware of biases and other considerations that affect these groups, and to provide training on implicit bias, antiracism and microagressions to faculty and staff.

For instance, while face coverings are required on most campuses this fall, masks are also linked to racial profiling that many Black people, particularly boys and men, experience from law enforcement. The guidance advises schools to provide branded face coverings that help identify the wearer as a member of the campus community, and it suggests officials work with local law enforcement to recognize the masks. 

Asian and Asian American students, meanwhile, have been a target of discriminatory and xenophobic behavior around the virus because it was first reported in China. For that reason, the guidance advises colleges to avoid using images of only Asian people in their coronavirus-related communications.

Colleges can help students with disabilities by ensuring they have accommodations needed to continue to participate in their classes. Students who are unable to hear, for instance, may not be able to rely on lip-reading where masks are required, the guidance notes.

“Recommendations are broad and may appear repetitive,” the authors write, “but each institution must consider its unique cultures, traditions, icons, and ceremonies as well as the biases and circumstances of the demographics they serve” to determine the best way to respond to the pandemic on their campus.

Further, while campus may be the safest place for some students during the pandemic, the authors note that these supports will be needed regardless of how or where instruction is delivered. 

Only about a fifth of colleges are planning for all or mostly in-person instruction this fall, according to one count. But many of the remaining schools are saving space on campus for students whose best option is living there. 

For colleges that serve many disadvantaged students, whether to reopen campus has required careful consideration. Roslyn Clark Artis, president of Benedict College, where four in five incoming students received Pell Grants in the 2018-19 school year, wrote in May that the pandemic “exacerbated” issues already affecting her students, including unsafe home environments, poor or no internet access, and racism that spurred the recent and widely publicized killings of several Black men.

“If we are honestly conducting risk assessments, we must consider the risk to these students of not returning to campus,” she wrote.

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