Anna Lee ‘24
Ever since students were asked to leave campus in March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested many, if not all Holy Cross students. In addition to managing a full courseload, most students have had to adjust to variable regulations and disruptions. Though Holy Cross officials have done a decent job in maintaining physical health and enforcing regulations, the unique challenges that the pandemic presents for the BIPOC community have not been adequately addressed.
The challenges that COVID has presented to students of color are not just isolated to Holy Cross. Even without the pandemic, culture shock and underrepresentation of BIPOC at many predominantly-white institutions (PWIs) are challenging in and of themselves.
In an article from Harvard Health and Medicine, lecturer Josephine Kim listed a few examples of structural racism across colleges: “‘Students of color don’t see themselves reflected on the walls they have to navigate, in the curriculum, in the authors who wrote the materials they have to read for class . . . and the food that’s in the cafeteria.’ Such experiences ‘point to a lack of inclusion and pose a threat to [their] mental health” (Laidler). When adding these expected adjustments to unprecedented quarantines and protocols, BIPOC students are affected at a much greater magnitude than their white counterparts.
Additionally, many students of color draw support from identity-based groups or by creating empathetic connections with other BIPOC students. But when identity is a target for discrimination during the pandemic, navigating a PWI like Holy Cross can strip away sources of stability and comfort that white students are automatically afforded.
On the other side of administration, action plans enacted by Holy Cross officials have been loosely defined or carried out. For example, an anti-racism action plan released by former President Boroughs in June 2020 was signed by eight faculty members, though only two of these members identify as BIPOC. While the other members’ contributions to this plan were probably well-informed, there ought to have been a more diverse panel of BIPOC voices that could bring anecdotal evidence to the anti-racism plan.
When addressing the actual content of this anti-racism action plan, the first goal in the document was “creating a culture of anti-racism.” However, the goal is left at this; there is no explanation as to how this “culture” is supposed to be developed or under what circumstances such a culture can be fostered under the pandemic’s limitations. Other examples were the proposed trainings and anti-racist education practices. But the lack of urgency or requirement behind any of these plans doesn’t necessarily encourage the white majority to seek out these trainings independently. A probable worry is that these challenging circumstances will not just affect BIPOC students in the short-term until the pandemic blows over, but possibly for the rest of their college career.
Yet on a positive note, there are several support systems that could help to mitigate the challenges presented. For example, the college could hire more BIPOC counselors, who can more easily empathize with the particular issues students of color face. Though the counseling center has no shortage of qualified counselors, not all students will receive the same amount of help if many issues stem from identity or race issues.
The goal of hiring more BIPOC counselors is to create a more equitable level of mental health support for BIPOC students during and after the pandemic. According to the Center for American Progress, BIPOC students are less likely to say they could reach out for counseling support than their white counterparts. Perhaps by diversifying the group of available counselors, BIPOC students at Holy Cross would feel more comfortable reaching out for help if they see someone with a similar racial background or understanding of systematic racism that they do.
Apart from adding more emotional structures of support, adding more physical spaces for BIPOC students has also been a topic of interest among Holy Cross diversity groups. Although the Hub and the Office of Multicultural Education are somewhat of a sanctuary for BIPOC/LGBTQ+ students, these two spaces are simply not enough to accommodate all the students who need a safe space. Given the amount of new spaces that have been created through the Jo, or the up-and-coming performing arts center, there should be little reason not to dedicate a few more rooms for students of color to decompress, socialize, or do work in a comfortable environment.
Ultimately, Holy Cross offers many great things – a competitive education, alumni network, and incredible facilities. But what it offers through academia, it lacks in awareness for the needs and support for BIPOC students. While this issue existed before the pandemic, support is needed now more than ever, even if these challenges do not affect the white majority.
Though nearly all students at Holy Cross are white, there cannot be a utilitarian stance when it comes to support systems for students. In other words, students of color should not be deprioritized because there are simply fewer of them. BIPOC students’ feelings, emotions, and need for support are just as valid as the collective student body and their white counterparts. But it is only through recognizing the shortcomings of the college so far, and then asking actual BIPOC faculty and students what they would like to see change, that true progress can ensue.