Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Class Differences in Education

At NYT, "College Made Them Feel Equal. The Virus Exposed How Unequal Their Lives Are":

The political science class was called “Forced Migration and Refugees.” Students read accounts of migrants fleeing broken economies and seeking better futures, of life plans drastically altered and the political forces that made it all seem necessary.

Then suddenly, the subject matter became personal: Haverford College shut down and evicted most students from the dormitories as the coronavirus spread through Pennsylvania.

Like many college courses around the country, the class soldiered on. The syllabus was revised. The students reconvened on a videoconferencing app.

But as each logged in, not everyone’s new reality looked the same.

One student sat at a vacation home on the coast of Maine. Another struggled to keep her mother’s Puerto Rican food truck running while meat vanished from Florida grocery shelves. As one young woman’s father, a private equity executive, urged the family to decamp to a country where infections were falling, another student’s mother in Russia couldn’t afford the plane ticket to bring her daughter home.

“Now Russia is about to close its borders,” Sophie Chochaeva told her classmates, in the days before the country did. She was one of 135 students still on campus, in a dorm room she called “the cozy foxhole,” as the world outside became a ghost town. “This crisis is exposing that a lot of people don’t have anywhere to go.”

The outbreak of the coronavirus — and the accompanying economic devastation that has left 10 million people almost instantly unemployed — has put America’s class divide on full display. Gig employees were the first to suffer, with many of their jobs vanishing without unemployment benefits. Office employees retreated to work-from-home arrangements while janitors cleaned the buildings they fled and delivery workers brought packages to their doorsteps.

But college was meant to be different. For decades, small liberal arts schools like Haverford, a short ride from Philadelphia, prided themselves on being the “great equalizer,” offering pedigrees not just to the scions of East Coast elites but also to the children of first-generation immigrants. Scholarships filled in for family money. Students ate the same cafeteria food in the morning and bunked in the same creaky beds at night.

No longer — at least not while the virus spreads through the country.

“It’s as though you had a front-row view on American inequality and the ways in which it was disguised and papered over,” said Anita Isaacs, the course’s professor who has taught political science at Haverford since 1988. The first gulf war, the Sept. 11 attacks, the Great Recession — she had seen them all through the eyes of her students.

“There’s been nothing like this before,” she said.

Several nights before the class was to reconvene online in late March, Professor Isaacs received an email from one of her teaching assistants, Tatiana Lathion, a college senior whose parents own the food truck. Their source of income was on the verge of liquidation as stay-at-home orders loomed in Jacksonville, Fla., where they lived.

“I’m not sure my savings will allow them both to survive this quarantine and still keep the business,” she wrote. She said she was thinking of getting a part-time job at a grocery store.

Wasn’t college supposed to get her away from all that?

“I have this panic moment that it’s literally for nothing now,” Ms. Lathion wrote to her professor.

Ms. Lathion had not thought she would attend college...
Still more.