“We don’t want to admire the problem of inequality.”
The Wednesday keynote address, from Sonya Douglass Horsford, Associate Professor of Education Leadership and Director of the Black Education Research Center at Columbia University, spoke to the mission of The Pandemic Divide and the conference. In her speech, titled “Black Education in the Wake of COVID-19 & Systemic Racism: Toward a Theory of Change and Action,” Dr. Douglass Horsford emphasized how the educational system has not been designed for black people and, most crucially, that “systemic problems require systemic solutions.”
The Pandemic Divide conference, a three-day gathering hosted by the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that features speakers, posters, and discussions around the health, financial, social, and educational effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—including the eponymous forthcoming book from Cook Center researchers and affiliates (Duke University Press, out November 15).
The day’s programming reflected the breadth of the issues laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational issues were covered throughout: The morning began with Dr. Adam Hollowell, Senior Research Associate at the Cook Center and Director of the Inequality Studies minor (and co-author of two chapters in The Pandemic Divide book), in conversation with Dr. John Barker, Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty at the University of Rochester, about longstanding issues in higher education (a dearth of student support services, diverse faculty retention, and the decline of tenure-track positions) that were exposed during the pandemic.
And in the afternoon, Amalia Chamorro and Elizabeth Zamudio—the Director of Education Policy Project, Project and Advocacy at UnidosUS and the Vice President of Education at UnidosUS, respectively—spoke about the status of Latino student success in America, the growth and gains that had been experienced in previous decades, and what was lost as a result of the many educational challenges the COVID-19 pandemic wrought. Still, the setback provide an opportunity and a motivation for change, they said. “We cannot afford to go back to the status quo. That was a broken system,” said Chamorro.
Sprinkled throughout the day were presentations regarding the financial and medical facets of the pandemic. Dr. Fenaba Addo, Cook Center Faculty Affiliate and Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill spoke on the student loan crisis, a topic which she addressed in her co-authored chapter of The Pandemic Divide as well as in her own forthcoming book, A Dream Defaulted (Harvard Education Press, out November 8). Similarly, Chris Wheat, president of the JP Morgan Chase Institute and co-author of a chapter in The Pandemic Divide, spoke on how the onset of the pandemic and subsequent stimulus payouts had disparate effects across race for household and small business finances.
Also speaking was Dr. Donald Alcendor, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Meharry Medical College, who was also heavily involved with TN CEAL, an organization that works to alleviate vaccine hesitancy among underserved populations in Tennessee. In addition to a detailed discussion of the biology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants, Dr. Alcendor detailed the work that he and his colleagues have done at vaccine rollout clinics throughout Tennessee, including at small and large businesses and at community baby showers for those who are pregnant.
In one powerful story, Dr. Alcendor detailed how his group worked with a pastor to have the pastor vaccinated during church service in front of the congregation to alleviate worries among churchgoers. “You have to approach communities in a cultural way that they understand,” he emphasized.
The evening featured a formal presentation of the posters that had been submitted for the conference, research from both current students in the Cook Center’s Global Inequality Research Initiative and scholars from around the globe. The seventy (!) posters on display exemplified the many intersections of the COVID-19 pandemic with daily life and the myriad areas for continued research.
Most apparent, however, was the pressing need for policy intervention and systemic change—anything to guarantee that these intractable problems of inequality won’t exist in perpetuity for scholars to merely admire. As Dr. Douglass Horsford said in her keynote address, “I don’t want to give this presentation again in ten years.”
The final day of the conference will begin Thursday at 8:30 A.M. Please join us at the Washington Duke Inn or follow the livestream on the Cook Center’s YouTube channel. (The full video from Tuesday can also be viewed here.)
* Through Friday, October 28, order your copy of The Pandemic Divide using code “FL22” for 50% off.*