Long Beach State’s Center for Community Engagement held a virtual student town hall on Nov. 19 addressing the economic and academic concerns of students of color during the coronavirus pandemic.
Juan Benitez, the executive director of CCE and a professor in the Chicano and Latino studies department as well as Sarah Taylor, a professor in family and consumer sciences, moderated the event with about 70 attendees. They introduced members of campus administration and asked for student feedback on the struggles they were facing during alternative modes of instruction.
Beth Manke, the interim dean of student success, described the Photovoice Project she began with Brian Trimble, a professor in the College of the Arts, which highlights student stories during the coronavirus pandemic. There were concerns that without students being physically on campus, their voices would not be heard.
“We really wanted to think about a way in which to amplify and center student voices to spark dialogue,” Manke said. “To really spark change.”
Erin Booth-Caro, director of the Career Development Center, cited concerns from students that job prospects were low after graduating. When participants were asked about their concerns in a Zoom poll, 60% said that they were worried about future job prospects.
In another poll, 47% of respondents in the audience selected that they had considered dropping out of school when asked how the pandemic had affected their plans to complete their degree.
Seiji Steimetz, the chair of the economics department, shared several infographics detailing unemployment insurance claims in the city of Long Beach. A diagram displaying the number by size showed how certain neighborhoods had higher rates of unemployment.
Steimetz displayed the next slide, which showed the disparities of education attainment between different races and ethnicities.
Of the data shown, groups that had self-identified as Latino, American Indian or Black had lower levels of college attainment, indicating that they were more likely to fall into the category of those harder hit by the coronavirus-induced recession.
A participant shared the stress of quarantining after finding out their entire family had tested positive.
Some cited the further financial stress brought on by the pandemic.
Parents’ loss of income caused students to take on more responsibility by providing for their own family while being a full-time student. One student spoke up and said they had lost employment because their work could no longer continue in person due to social distancing measures.
Another participant said book vouchers were helpful in paying for part of their educational expenses.
One student asked for more asynchronous classes to accommodate working students.
Others cited difficulties due to alternative modes of instruction. They said that they felt professors were treating online classes like a “vacation.” Meanwhile, students said they were struggling to communicate with professors and asked for more support, citing that it was difficult to book appointments with academic advising.
Another student mentioned that transportation was their main barrier to accessing on-campus resources due to the loss of the free bus fare that was once offered to students taking Long Beach transit.
“You are really impactful in ways that you probably aren’t even aware of right now by being here with us tonight,” Benitez said to all the student participants. “I want to thank all of you for staying here for joining us and for being so engaged.”