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Supporting Communities of Color during COVID-19

May 22, 2020
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As the spring semester comes to a close and our 15,000-student community settles into summer, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the challenges COVID-19 presents to our students of color and how we are celebrating diversity, designing for equity, and fostering inclusivity. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new waves of adversity for countless students and families, many of which have disproportionately affected our communities of color. Despite this adversity, we celebrate the vibrant cultures of our Asian American communities and honor their critical role in creating our unique cultural fabric here in the U.S. as we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

At College Forward, we are taking deliberate steps to educate our team members on our Asian American citizens’ storied history and how their narratives continue to unfold in these unprecedented times. Throughout this meaningful month of reflection, we continue to focus and refine our support for all College Forward students and families, no matter what challenges befall them.

Our coaches and coordinators are always a phone call or text away! More than ever, we are committed to serving all of our students on this long journey to and through college. 

Stay safe and be well,

Austin Buchan
Chief Executive Officer

On Serving Students During COVID-19

Jasmine Di Diego, AmeriCorps College Success Coach

As I wrap-up my service year with College Forward as a Success Coach at Austin Community College, the COVID-19 crisis blurs the line between what is and isn’t too personal to discuss. In one text message, my student expresses not only her exhaustion with learning how to teach herself material for her online classes, but also becoming a live-in teacher for her son. And if that was not enough on her plate, she also reveals that her father is very sick and being tested for COVID.

Even though I ask her what the results for her father’s test were the next time we talk, she changes the subject until I learn not to bring it up again. Another one of my students fearfully asks if she can go out into her yard because sheriffs are patrolling her neighborhood, and all she wants to do is feel the fresh air in her lungs.

I see videos carelessly shared on Facebook that feature a slow slideshow of bashed-in Asian faces that seem to carry the same weight as a line-up as if it is a crime to be the same race as or to look like, the people where COVID-19 seemingly originated. And at night, I stay awake, tossing and turning, wondering if the next bloody Facebook post I see will feature my Asian friends in Austin simply because they wore a face mask. None of my Asian students respond to me, as I check on them, but that is not out of character for them.

Our program managers emphasize that you "can't serve from an empty cup," which may be the only reason I venture outside of my apartment to pick up my meds. I wear hoop earrings and curl my hair, hoping my almond eyes don't signify Asian this time.

Jasmine Di Diego

As someone who identifies as hapa—mixed race with some Asian thrown in— I have become accustomed to hearing what can make me look less Asian and more vaguely POC. I use these markers when I go outside.

At College Forward, our program managers emphasize that you “can’t serve from an empty cup,” which may be the only reason I venture outside of my apartment to pick up my meds. I wear hoop earrings and curl my hair, hoping my almond eyes don’t signify Asian this time. 

Serving with Equity

Samantha Drennon, Manager of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at College Forward, developed a series of opportunities to better equip our front-line service providers with the tools and understanding needed to improve services for our Asian American student community.

The devastating coronavirus continues to sweep our communities, and we have all become more aware of the public health recommendations. Equally paramount is heightening our advocacy and internal work for communities and individuals that are most impacted. Notably, we are establishing internal processes for support of our communities of color, immigrant communities, and low-income communities that we serve, ensuring that our team has the resources they need to adapt to these ever-evolving new challenges. 

College Forward has committed to addressing the increasing inequities that impact our communities through the following:

  • Working towards a more robust student emergency fund to support students who are experiencing financial hardship
  • Prioritizing internal training conversations focused on Xenophobia primarily targeted at Asian communities during this time, emphasizing the use of neutral, equitable, and non-biased language when discussing COVID-19
  • Making explicit commitments to our staff, students, and communities that we are in solidarity with Asian communities during this time
  • Engaging in collaboration with the City of Austin’s Equity Action Team to keep our team members up to date on newly released information that impacts some of our most underserved communities
  • Consistently soliciting feedback and analyzing our work-from-home practices to mitigate white supremacy culture in our policies and procedures. 

We recognize that these efforts alone are not enough. Collective community work takes the action of all of us. One of the unique traits of this pandemic is that we are quite literally all in this together across boundaries that are visible and non-visible across the globe. 

We must all be vigilant in educating ourselves, creating new ways of understanding, and using inclusive language when discussing COVID-19. In addition to our efforts to use inclusive language, we are also encouraging supporting Asian-owned businesses as their impact has been disproportionate to other companies during COVID-19. For more information on how to support Asian-owned ventures in Austin, TX, please consult the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce.

We are thankful for the college access and success community’s willingness to engage in pushing back against the messages of fear and embracing the language of holistic inclusion and equity. 

We are all stronger together. 

Wishing you health, moments of joy, and whatever else you may need during this time.

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