Article provided by Professor Steven Shankman, UNESCO Chair in Transcultural Studies, Interreligious Dialogue and Peace and authored by Professor Peter Laufer, CoDirector of UO-UNESCO Crossings Institute for Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict-Sensitive Reporting .

How is Covid-19 affecting specific realities in higher education in the United States?

Allow me to answer with a case study from early in the spring term 2020 here at the University of Oregon. I am teaching a course titled International Communications. We compare and contrast how information transfer differs across cultures, nations, languages and other factors. It is a vibrant study, relevant to historical analysis and contemporary experiences. Over 150 students are in my section and I endeavour to be responsive to individual’s inquiries.

Hence, I was attentive when I received a note early in the term from a student requesting an office hour meeting. We convened on the telephone and it was immediately evident that she was thoughtful, articulate, well-spoken and suffering from extraordinary stress.

The ramifications of the pandemic were not theoretical for her. She had lost both her jobs and her mother had lost her job. She was seeking a tenant to sublease her apartment and intended to return to her mother’s house across the state to save rent and help at home. The first in her family to matriculate at the university level, she was due to graduate after completing her spring 2020 courses. 

This is an excellent student, a vibrant volunteer for community development projects and a student leader on campus. She explained, during our phone call, that she had contacted me because she prided herself on her academic excellence and feared that the combination of familial economic hardships and the unexpected move back to her mother’s house might be such a time, energy and psychic drain that her assignments in my class might be submitted after their deadlines.

Of course, Covid-19 suffering plagues all of society. But there are egregious elements of this student’s story that unnecessarily exacerbate her existential problems.

Her mother is an immigrant from Mexico living and working in the United States for over 17 years without official U.S. government documentation. Consequently, her mother is not eligible for unemployment insurance based on the years she’s worked. In addition, because of her undocumented status, her mother is not eligible for the $1200 federal government emergency money.

This stellar student was just a toddler when she arrived in the United States from Mexico. She is authorized to remain in the United States because she qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Yet she believes she too is not going to qualify for the $1200 federal payment and she too lost her job.