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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

June 2020
C. Aujean Lee, Assistant Professor of Regional and City Planning, University of Oklahoma

The handling of and messaging surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an uptick in anti-Asian discimination and violence in the United States. This project examines differing government responses to COVID-19-related discrimination and stigma that have targeted Asian Americans. Through an analysis of government websites and statements, we analyze how government agencies understand and/or racialize the discrimination.

Our work highlights how government agencies are not well-equipped or well-informed to talk about racialized events. When governments choose to ignore when a group is being targeted, their responses uphold colorblindness, presenting these incidents as isolated rather than connected to systematic racism. This project is in collaboration with John Arroyo, assistant professor at the University of Oregon.

June 2020
Stacey Doan, Associate Professor of Psychology, Claremont McKenna College

For families, the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a major life stressor that is accompanied by heightened daily hassles, including lack of childcare, altered work expectations or uncertain job security, and social distancing, compounded by pressing concerns about the direct and indirect impacts of the disease on family members’ health.  By capitalizing on data we have already collected as part of an ongoing longitudinal study of stress and adaptation in families of young children, this study will address fundamental questions about effects of a chronic stressor on health outcomes as well as the biological mechanisms by which stress affects health. We will test theories of the biological embedding of stress and competing hypotheses regarding risk and resilience factors on the stress physiology and psychological adjustment of parents and children.  Our goal is to identify family characteristics that promote children’s well-being, focusing on those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds who are most impacted by these unprecedented threats to health and social stability.

“One of the things the pandemic has really highlighted for me is the relevance and practical applications of my research. I think, many if not most scholars, want our work to matter, to have an impact .... It dawned on me that we can learn something about what is happening right now. So we launched this study with two goals: 1) to generate data that might be useful for families dealing with a chronic stressor but also 2) to give space and a voice for families from disadvantaged backgrounds to share their stories.”

June 2020
Anthony Burrow, Associate Professor of Human Development, Cornell University

Psychological research suggests a sense of purpose in life is a coveted asset, with well-established linkages to well-being and healthy functioning. But how do individuals preserve this sense when previously reliable settings - and the opportunities they afford - are profoundly disrupted? The current moment provides a formidable test of this question, as widespread transmission of COVID-19 and intense efforts to slow it drastically transform our environment. In our study, we consider how the experience of purpose may be impacted by disruptions in three key person-environment interactions: how we engage with work, how we engage in education, and how we manage physical proximity. We hope to motivate critical thinking about how this pandemic, and our collective responses to it, influence the experience of purpose and delineate a research agenda that may inform how individuals can preserve a sense of engagement and contribution.

June 2020
Bruce Pietrykowski, Professor of Economics, University of Michigan-Dearborn

As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large segment of the workforce is now being recognized as performing essential labor. Some of this work is low-wage and is often portrayed as low-skilled labor. These jobs are frequently performed by women and people of color. My previous research focused on care work and the way in which care worker skills are valued, and very often devalued, in the economy. My current research extends this analysis to the economic conditions facing low-wage essential workers. By examining occupational skills along with the racial and gender composition of essential work, I plan to estimate the economic returns to essential worker skills, identify any wage penalty/premium associated with particular skills, evaluate the relative standing of these workers in the wage distribution, and discuss policies to improve the economic well-being of essential workers.

June 2020
Robin Brewer, Assistant Professor of Information, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science, University of Michigan

Many families are using remote technologies for connection as a result of COVID-19. Social distancing has the potential to have a critical impact on those at-risk for social isolation. Prior work shows how social isolation increases with age and social isolation can have negative effects on one’s health. In this study, we explore meaningful connection with others and technology use. Specifically, we survey older adults on their use of technology while social distancing to understand how their relationship with people has changed through the use of remote technologies.

“I am inspired to do this work from connecting with my own family members while social distancing. Being unable to leave the home is very frustrating for many of them, where the alternative could be sitting at home alone. Now is when researchers like myself can use our privilege to help communities that feel the most invisible during this time.”

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

June 2020
Yan Ciupak, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Northern Michigan

My present quasi-experiment examines the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on well-being and self-efficacy as well as the effects of a positive psychology intervention on mitigating the negative effects of the pandemic on well-being. The experimental group consists of 20 undergraduate students and the control group of 25, all enrolled in a Michigan public university. For 6 weeks, the experimental group participated in a planner-aided, mindfulness-based positive psychology intervention that aimed to improve well-being and self-regulation. Both groups took the pre-test at the beginning of February 2020 before the novel coronavirus emerged as a global pandemic. They took the post-test at the beginning of April during the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. The instruments measured the participants’ well-being, self-efficacy, planning and mindfulness practices. The post-test contained additional questions on COVID-19-related experiences and strategies. We hypothesized a decrease in well-being and self-efficacy in both groups. In addition, we predicted that the experimental group would have higher levels of well-being and self-efficacy compared to the control group. Initial data analysis supports both hypotheses.

“I was leading my research class students conducting a quasi-experimental research on the effects of planning and mindfulness practices on well-being and self-efficacy at the beginning of winter 2020 semester. Then COVID-19 happened, which caused some interruption, and students were asking whether we would continue with our project. I said of course, COVID-19 and our pre- post- test design provide a unique opportunity to measure the impacts of COVID-19 on well-being and self-efficacy and possible interventions and strategies to combat its effects!”

June 2020
Shan-Jan Sarah Liu, Assistant Professor of Social and Political Science

Our research investigates questions of public health, media and communication among residents of Edinburgh and the Lothians in Scotland in relation to COVID-19. The project draws on individuals’ personal accounts of the pandemic, in the form of video diary data recorded during or shortly following the UK stay-at-home order. The intimate, immediate, and spontaneous nature of video diaries makes them a unique data resource for assessing drivers of individual experience, including (1) acceptance, uptake, and adherence to public health measures, (2) impacts on mental health, and (3) drivers of fears, anxieties, rumours and stigma. Video diaries represent time-sensitive data of individuals’ raw experiences, and are context-sensitive to aspects of identity, demographics, and background. This research is made possible by an interdisciplinary research team from the University of Edinburgh: Dr. Lauren Hall-Lew (PI), Dr. Sarah Liu, Dr. Claire Cowie, Dr. Catherine Lai, Dr Beatrice Alex, Dr. Nini Fang, and Dr. Clare Llewellyn.

June 2020
Jaclynn Hawkins, Assistant Professor of Social Work, University of Michigan

Low income and minority men have some of the worst health profiles in the U.S. and disproportionately suffer premature death and significantly higher incidence of several common diseases. Research consistently demonstrates that these groups of men are more likely to experience undiagnosed and sub-optimally managed chronic conditions such as diabetes. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, a focus on better understanding the health needs of this population, and ways to increase their engagement with care, is critical. Each year the Michigan Men’s Health Foundation holds a Men’s Health Event in Ford Field for over 1300 low-income men residing in Metro Detroit offering free health services. However, to date, no studies have examined the impact of attending such a rigorous free health event on short and long-term health behaviors and outcomes. The goals of this project are 1) to evaluate the impact of a free men’s health event on help-seeking and health behaviors in low income men and 2) to assess help-seeking, health behavior, and health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on low-income men who have been directly and indirectly impacted by COVID-19. This study will allow the Michigan Men’s Health Foundation and other health care professionals to better meet the needs of this at-risk group.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen communities, academics, for-profit and nonprofit agencies, and health care systems come together and mobilize to flatten the curve in a powerful and transformative way. It will be critical for us to preserve and utilize this network—out of chaos and sorrow, perhaps we can bring about some meaningful change.”

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

June 2020
Nate Brown, Professor of Mathematics, Pennsylvania State University

Educational disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic impact everyone, but some students are hit harder than others. For instance, low socioeconomic status could compound stress through inadequate housing options or lack of access to high-speed internet. Students from multigenerational homes, where young children or grandparents cohabitate, may find boundaries difficult to maintain, and women are likely to take on additional domestic duties, compared to men, further decreasing time and energy for their studies. In this research we aim to map the complex landscape of challenges which disproportionately impact under-resourced and underrepresented STEM students, then measure said impacts with a large-scale survey study (N=1000).

“Over the next 12 months collaborators and I aim to map the vast landscape of challenges and measure their impacts on students traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields (women, students of color) and those of low socioeconomic status. My aim is to provide the evidence base upon which successful interventions can be built. As a single father of multiracial children, this work could hardly be more important to me.”

June 2020
Mayra L. López-Humphreys, Associate Professor of Social Work, College of Staten Island

The nationwide move to distance education necessitated by the coronavirus crisis has served to spotlight disparities that stratify the higher education landscape. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, City University of New York (CUNY) students and faculty were told not to return to campus and were relegated to online instruction. Students and faculty report experiencing symptoms related to depression, anxiety, and insomnia due to this sudden change in the CUNY educational process coupled with the conflicting information regarding the effects of COVID-19 and the US response to those effects. This study examines the psychosocial burden among students, faculty, and staff within a public university system due to the unexpected and abrupt mandatory transition to remote instruction.

June 2020
Ashley Cureton, Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Education and Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University

English language learner (ELL) students and their families are more likely than others to have limited access to digital devices or the Internet, limited understanding of English, and the inability to work independently without support. Since health outcomes are so closely tied to educational level, it is essential to prevent the educational gap from widening between ELLs and other students during the COVID-19 crisis.  In partnership with Catholic Charities - Esperanza Center, a qualitative needs assessment will be conducted to focus on how adolescent English language learners attending Baltimore City Public Schools have accessed and adjusted to remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak. Through 30 in-depth interviews with ELL youth and their parents, this study will focus on identifying the types of resources and supports needed to thrive academically and socio-emotionally, informing the development of an online directory for families and local community partners.

“As a social work scholar who explores the educational and mental health needs and outcomes of refugee and migrant youth and their families, I am particularly concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on their academic achievement and engagement in schools through learning at home. Remote learning poses particular challenges to ELL families, so this project provides an empirical opportunity to learn about ELL students firsthand experiences of online school during the coronavirus pandemic and to identify resources and supports to aid them and their families. Moreover, I hope this study is informative to school district leaders from Baltimore City Public Schools and other urban school districts throughout the country.”

June 2020
Karla Loya, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Hartford

In a forthcoming book chapter, I present an autoethnography based on my reflexivity on my stance as an instructor before, during, and immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic. Having always prided myself a learner-centered teacher, adjusting to the disruption presented mid-semester by the COVID-19 pandemic meant thinking about and transforming what it meant to be a learner, an instructor, a student. This in turn meant rethinking the values and roles of content, grades, and power. Using previous and current versions of my teaching philosophy statements, journals and memos, and course evaluation data for spring 2020 semester and summer 2020 term, I reflect on the experience of facing epistemic and pedagogical incongruence. In this chapter, I attempt to self-critique and transform my practice.

“I had always prided myself in being a learner-centered teaching, then the pandemic arrived and I had to question my role and responsibility as an instructor. I had to rethink what was important and how I could best support my students. My views of learning, teaching, and assessment were upended.”

June 2020
Mauriell Amechi, Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations & Leadership, Old Dominion University

My research and advocacy center on issues of educational equity, intersectionality, college access, and persistence to degree completion among marginalized learners. My latest scholarship centers the voices and experiences of transition-age youth and young adults in or emancipated from foster care. The global health emergency fueled by COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of students from all backgrounds. However, for young people aging out of the foster care system, widespread school closures have had a severe and disproportionate impact, further pushing them to the margins of society. Early survey evidence suggests that rates of homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment, and mental health issues have soared among young people in or with history in foster care. In contrast to their peers who can quickly turn to familial support networks during a crisis, transition-age foster youth do not have access to these critical safety nets and social support. Read more.

June 2020
Beth Tarasawa, Executive Vice President of Research, NWEA

With 55 million students in the United States out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, education systems are scrambling to meet the needs of schools and families, including planning how best to approach instruction in the fall given students may be farther behind than in a typical year. Yet, education leaders have little data on how much learning has been impacted by school closures. While the COVID-19 learning interruptions are unprecedented in modern times, existing research on the impacts of missing school (due to absenteeism, regular summer breaks, and school closures) on learning can nonetheless inform projections of potential learning loss due to the pandemic. In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns of five million students. Under these projections, students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math. However, we estimate that losing ground during the COVID-19 school closures would not be universal, with the top third of students potentially making gains in reading. Thus, in preparing for fall 2020, educators will likely need to consider ways to support students who are academically behind and further differentiate instruction.

“Taken together, these forecasts parallel many education leaders’ fears: missing school for a prolonged period will likely have major impacts on student achievement come fall. The COVID-19 crisis is a call to action for practitioners and policy makers alike. We must be prepared to support students, many of whom will likely be behind academically.”

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.”