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Diversity Scholars Address COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on nearly every aspect of society. Research and scholarship is critical to understanding and addressing COVID-19 impacts, including focused attention on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This includes, for example, scholarship which interrogates how existing societal inequalities are influencing health disparities in COVID-19 outcomes based on race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, and disability status, among other characteristics. It also includes critical attention to existing and emergent social and cultural perceptions and attitudes — such as prejudice and bias based on race/ethnicity, nationality, and immigrant status — that underlie discriminatory behaviors and decision making.

In these first weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath, members of the Diversity Scholars Network (DSN) have been contributing their expertise to public national discourse, policy, and practices. The DSN, hosted at the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) at the University of Michigan, is an international network of over 900 scholars across a variety of institutions, fields, and disciplines who conduct diversity scholarship.

One of NCID's core mission areas is promoting, catalyzing, and elevating diversity scholarship and its application for positive social change. In this spirit, we preview below just a few examples of DSN members' recent engagements with national and local media during the COVID-19 pandemic as they offer contributions based in their scholarly expertise. This list is continuously updated.

Societal Impact

May 5, 2020
Kentaro Toyama, professor of information at the University of Michigan, warned about the potential consequences of contact tracing surveillance technology in Bridge. “The devil is in the details ... If we’re going to use these technologies, we need to be very careful that they’re constrained specifically for the purposes of the pandemic, and not used for anything else.”

April 17, 2020
Dr. Cynthia Wang is a clinical professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University who has studied the psychology behind conspiratorial thinking. Kellogg Insight recently spoke with Wang to discuss why the current pandemic has led to so many conspiracy theories, and what policymakers and leaders can do to ensure that the truth finds a receptive audience.

April 15, 2020
Social distancing is a privilege afforded to many precisely because others are still required to report to work, at the risk of losing their jobs, health insurance, and income. Jennifer Oliva, law professor at Seton Hall University, told The Nation, “Some people simply have to go outside.… You’re not getting your Amazon delivery when you’re in your bougie Bergen County gated community without somebody working.… People still have to do all sorts of things to keep you able to sit in your home and do whatever you’re doing.”

April 15, 2020
Describing the needed policy response to the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black communities, Dr. Breanca Merrit of Indiana University emphasized to RTV6 Indianapolis, "It boils down to just calling things being related to race. I think often the language gets conflated to things like poverty and crime, when really we're seeing these racial disparities are happening regardless of income and behaviors that folks like to conflate with race."

April 10, 2020
Leaders should be particularly mindful of prioritizing inclusive behaviors in workplaces during crises such as COVID-19. Among other things, attending to gender bias is important. Dr. Melissa Abad, a sociologist at Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab, told Harvard Business Review, “When Black or Latina women are stressed, that can be viewed negatively in work communication, compared with other people in the majority expressing the same emotion.”

March 31, 2020
Dr. Jennifer Richeson researches the social psychology of cultural diversity at Yale University. In a recent article in The Citizen focused on the sharp rise in discrimination based on outward cultural identity in India, she stated, “The truth is that unless parents actively teach kids not to be racists, they will be.”

March 27, 2020
In a co-authored Scientific American article, Dr. Anthony Burrow, director of the Program for Research on Youth Development (PRYDE) at Cornell, examined the impact of age related stereotypes on young people that are working to fight the irresponsible and selfish labels during the age of COVID-19 through volunteerism. The article stated, “What is clear, from our research and that of others, is that most young people possess impressive and far-reaching goals that are often generative and prosocial in nature.”

March 27, 2020
In an article published in The Pursuit: Trending Topics in Michigan Public Health focused on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on immigrant communities, Dr. William Lopez (University of Michigan) and Dr. Nicole Novak (University of Iowa) stated, "If ICE wants to gain a public trust that could legitimately curb the spread of coronavirus in immigrant communities and beyond, it can start by unequivocally stating that collateral arrests will not occur.”

Health and Well-being

May 11, 2020
University of Michigan public health professors William Lopez and Paul Fleming shared their expertise with MLive on how and why the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting Hispanic communities. Lopez stated that Latinos are more likely to hold jobs deemed essential during the pandemic: "Those essential jobs are often face-to-face, and they’re seeing customers, interacting with folks, providing care in ways that other communities — sometimes white communities — are not.” Fleming added, “When people’s livelihoods don’t allow them to shelter in place or they have to shelter in place in a high-risk environment, they are going to be more severely affected.”

May 8, 2020
Stay at home orders, while intended to keep us safe, have put many at higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence. This is particularly true for marginalized communities, including South Asian women. Saheli co-executive directors Rita Shah and Divya Chaturvedi told HuffPost India, “Conditioning around shame and honour in South Asian culture permeates every caste, class and religion, even in the US," emphasizing that during lock-down, “Survivors don’t have a safe place to call us [from].”

April 28, 2020
In an MLive article exploring how structural racism has laid the groundwork for disproportionate effects on African Americans, Ijeoma Opara, professor of public health at Wayne State University, emphasized that “the conditions in which we live, work, play, go to school and die,” account for up to 80% of our health. Indeed, she points out, disparities in these variables must be acknowledged if the problem is to be solved.

April 24, 2020
Annmarie Caño, professor of psychology and associate provost for faculty development and faculty success at Wayne State University, wrote in The Conversation about exercising empathy with your partner during this highly stressful time, while also maintaining your own wellbeing. “It’s difficult to really be there for someone when we are feeling stressed out ourselves. In fact, listening to our loved one’s suffering can adversely affect our well-being,” she wrote, offering strategies for developing relational flexibility.

April 15, 2020
Dr. Paul Fleming studies the social determinants of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan. In this article, he discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the city of Detroit as its systematically marginalized residents are particularly vulnerable. He highlighted the work community-based organizations are doing to support the residents in this time of uncertainty.

April 14, 2020
In addition to not having access to water to wash their hands, residents of Detroit’s most polluted zip code are also experiencing the impact of poor air quality on their health during the pandemic. Dr. Amy Schulz, a University of Michigan public health professor, contributed to FOX2 Detroit, “There’s evidence that people who get COVID and have those conditions experience much greater severity and are much more likely to be hospitalized and much more likely to die.” These combined factors have contributed to multiple COVID-19 risk factors as Detroit’s diagnosis rate continues to rise.

April 14, 2020
COVID-19 has amplified the structural inequalities that are causing African Americans to die at disproportionate rates. Dr. Alford A. Young Jr., University of Michigan professor of sociology, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Not only do many live in densely populated areas where it’s hard to social distance, but they also live in households that are more crowded than the homes occupied by more privileged Americans.”

April 11, 2020
The term used to explain why African Americans are more susceptible to COVID-19 is “comorbidity” — which simply means a person has more than one health condition at a time, said Dr. Ruby Mendenhall, assistant dean for diversity and democratization of health innovation at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the University of Illinois. But to understand why African Americans disproportionately suffer from such conditions, Mendenhall said it is important to examine “the plethora of societal conditions that can create wear and tear on the body and mind, too: grief from the premature death of loved ones, subtle forms of racism, overt forms of racism, substandard housing, et cetera.”

April 8, 2020
The University of Michigan’s Dr. Melissa Creary was featured Michigan Radio's Stateside program where she discussed how COVID-19 exacerbates health inequalities in marginalized communities. She states "disease is not just about biology...but public health has said over and over again about how we have to pay attention to the social determinants of health."

March 28, 2020
Dr. Alana Biggers, a University of Illinois internal medicine physician, contributed her expertise to a Medical News Today article that gathered professional advice and information for the public on COVID-19. She stated, “I wish my patients knew that coronavirus is not just a “bad flu.” It is a major respiratory infection that can cause detrimental health effects on people of all ages.”

Educational Impact

May 6, 2020
Preliminary survey results from the University of Exeter's Centre for Education and Youth suggest that teachers believe that the shift to remote learning will have a positive impact on their skills. But, 72% of teachers said school closures would have a negative impact on their wellbeing and safety. Anna Mountford-Zimdars told TES, “Our survey paints a picture of the current wellbeing of parents, guardians, children and teachers just a few weeks into this major change in children’s lives. We can see their views have changed rapidly, and this is likely to have an impact on education in the future."

May 1, 2020
Drawing from contributions to their new book Degrees of Difference, Kimberly McKee and Denise Delgado told Inside Higher Ed about strategies graduate programs can adopt to increase retention of women of color and indigenous graduate students. They emphasized, “It's vital that higher education operate with even more intentionality moving forward in light of the global pandemic’s impact on people’s personal and professional lives. If colleges and universities are truly interested in recruiting and retaining women of color in academia, these three fundamental steps can make all the difference.”

April 2, 2020
Diversity scholars Dr. Melissa Borja (University of Michigan), Dr. William Lopez (University of Michigan, and Dr. Sam Museus (University of California, San Diego) are among those confronting the rise of anti-Asian and anti-Asian American racism during the COVID-19 pandemic. Museus commented in Inside Higher Ed, “... there’s a long history of physical illnesses being weaponized against communities of color in our society and used as a way to spark fear and animosity toward immigrant populations in order to advance political agendas."

March 30, 2020
In a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education offering advice on supporting students during the shift to online learning, Dr. Anthony Jack, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, emphasized the importance of faculty sharing their stories. He encouraged faculty to exercise vulnerability with their students: “We are scared, too, we are people. We are not automatons that are able to spew data and facts regardless of the circumstances.”

March 16, 2020
“Most college students go to places that have much less not only in endowment sizes, but also in resources, to buffer the effects of closing a campus,” said Dr. W. Carson Byrd, a sociologist of higher education at the University of Louisville. Less wealthy schools will have trouble with a host of processes, he told The Atlantic, “whether it’s trying to promote online learning, or helping students figure out, How do you finish the semester? How do you graduate?”

March 12, 2020
As college and university residence halls close down, Dr. Anthony Jack, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, told Inside Higher Ed, “To say, ‘Don’t come back after spring break,’ assumes that students leave in the first place, and that is fundamentally not true, because the reality is a significant number of students — disproportionately those from lower-income backgrounds — remain on campus because they can’t afford to leave, they don’t have anywhere to go or they know that home and harm are synonymous. On the last point, that last group includes those who have fraught relationships with their families for reasons from political ideology to gender roles to sexual identity.”