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Supporting Students with an Inclusive Lens

Roundtable discussion moderated by Dr. Carl. Krieger, Director of Residential Education on April 23, 2020 with:

  • Zenephia Evans, Assoc. Dean of Students, Education and Advocacy
  • Michelle Ashcraft, Director of Purdue Promise
  • Baraka Corley, Director of Horizons
  • Christopher Munt, Inclusive Excellence Specialist, Division of Diversity and Inclusion

Session Outcomes

  • How our diverse student body may be impacted differently by our new paradigm
  • Ways some Purdue departments are supporting students with an inclusive lens in a new paradigm
  • Brief overview of resources to support students from diverse backgrounds

Insights on Differentiated Experiences

  • Internet access
  • Home environment –safe or even available?
  • Private, quiet space to attend class virtually, complete homework, and take exams and quizzes
  • Federal Work Study students cannot collect unemployment
  • Time zone
  • Students at home do not have increased amount of extra time for instructors' expectations for additional work
  • Unintended consequences of course policy changes
  • Impact of food insecurity on learning


Our students bring to the table many interconnected identities. How do we make sure those students are supported? As I prepared this presentation, I thought about:

  • 14th Amendment in 1868
  • Suffrage movement, women receiving their right to vote in 1920
  • Brown versus Board of Education in 1954
  • Individuals with Disabilities Act from 1997
  • US versus Windsor in 2013 

All of these movements prompted change on different levels, and we will see those changes come into play when we think about what the University looks like during this pandemic and beyond.

Internet Access


Internet access is a concern for those who work directly with students as they moved home. Typically, this has been framed around, "Do you have internet access or do you not?" If not, how can the University help resolve the issue? Let’s take that further to think about the kind and quality of internet access folks have. Is it fast? Is it consistent? Are they sharing one connection with many other people? If so, what challenges does that entail? 

Home Environment


The home environment is another big consideration, particularly for those who are teaching courses or working with a group on a regular basis. I have found it helpful to assume that all of my students and coworkers are sharing their living space with other people, which means that I need to be proactive in giving them a heads up if they need to have a Zoom call with me, or to work on something via the internet. I want to be sure they can negotiate that time within their home environment.

Think about comfort and security when it comes to video sharing and recording presentations. Some of our students and colleagues are not comfortable sharing a video feed from their house. We need to find ways of respecting that and accommodating those differences. 

Private, Quiet Space


Some students have returned home to unpleasant environments. They may be disinclined to engage in virtual settings, or when they do engage, it may be from interesting parts of the home. We've had students set up shop in closets and bathrooms, or who may not be able to get on the call because there is something taking place in the home that they don't want to share. We don't want to presume that students have a private, quiet space to attend virtually.

Federal Work Study Students Cannot Collect Unemployment


Many students are not able to work through campus employment, and federal work study students cannot file for unemployment. There is discussion at the state and federal levels regarding other benefits that folks may be able to apply for, such as SNAP, which is the ability to get food assistance. Right now, federal policy says that in order for students to qualify for some social services, they have to be working at least 20 hours a week. Obviously, the loss of employment prevents them from being able to file for that assistance. Last week, there were seven states that filed waivers from the federal government for those requirements, but those waivers were denied by the federal government.

The good news is that Purdue has decided to release a lump sum payment to students who had federal work study this semester, and were actively working at the time we sent students home or moved to telework. Some students will be getting a payment today. An email will be sent about that. We don't yet know what on-campus employment looks like moving forward, and how that may impact all of our students. 

Time Zone


Not everyone is in the same time zone, and staff and faculty need to be flexible to prevent folks from being up at all hours of the night to complete their work.

Students at Home Do Not Have Extra Time


Many students have reported a seeming increase in the assignments and the responsibilities for their courses. The assumption was that there would be extra time. Many of the students have reported additional responsibilities in having to return home. That may include taking care of younger siblings or elderly in the home because their parents are at work. Or everybody is home working from a distance, and that may alter when a student is able to get online to complete assignments.

Unintended Consequences of Course Policy Changes


Students are overwhelmed by email right now. The president's office and the provost's office have received great feedback regarding the video messages they sent out, and students have asked for more of that to happen. Students really appreciate connections by phone, text message, WebEx or Zoom, because we can talk through things rather than relying on them to read email.

As we communicate changes in policy, we need to check in with students to be sure they have seen and understood those messages. It is particularly important for first-generation students. We've received many questions about the pass, no pass policy. There are excellent FAQs about that, but a first-generation student may not know how to completely interpret a policy and how it will influence their future enrollment in graduate or professional school or changing their major. Take the time to talk through those policies with students.

Impact of Food Insecurity on Learning


We have wonderful resources here on campus to ensure that our students have enough food. ACE Campus Food Pantry does incredible work to help those who are still here in the community.

Many of our students are home in rural communities and have to travel far to obtain food. Below is a searchable database to find local food based resources created by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. I encourage you to check on students’ holistic wellness—ask if they have access to food.

Tangible Student Support Examples

What may concern students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds living this experience?


There's a common misconception that because we are all expected to have health insurance that everyone does, but the reality is that a lot of people don't. Many of our students have health insurance through their parents or guardians. Yet, many of those parents and guardians may be without work, and may lose health insurance. If our low income students and their families contract the virus, they may have less access for treatment, which means the healing time may be longer or more severe.

It's important to keep in mind mental health support resources offered by Purdue, around the state and country. Check in with students to see how they're doing holistically, and refer them to support, if needed. There are many free hotlines both to call and text. There are great websites with virtual therapy. Familiarize yourself with the mental health resources available.

Some students will have to extend their time here. Maybe they were anticipating graduating in May or August, and now they have to take some incompletes or not finish classes. With that comes increased costs. Has the student filed the FAFSA? If they missed the deadline because they thought they were going to graduate, and now they're not, advise them to contact financial aid to appeal the FAFSA filing deadline.

If they are enrolling in summer school, make sure they have filed the summer aid application. Be sure they know their options for living situations in the fall. If we are back on campus, can they find a sublease instead of signing a full year lease? Doing everything that we can to reduce the expenses of that extra time will help students be more successful.


Many students have lost employment that paid for their schooling. Now that they returned home, many of them feel they are a burden on the families that can't afford to take care of them. Some upperclassmen are concerned about the availability of jobs when they graduate. Many students may have received a job offer and now wonder if it will be rescinded. The inability to provide answers for them causes concern.

Many of our students are concerned with being asymptomatic and going home to their elderly parents or to their grandparents. Some students left safe spaces and went into the “belly of the beast,” so to speak, where the virus was prevalent, and they are concerned.

Internet Hotspots


There is a level of privilege here. A student who can sit in the comfort of their home and use their internet at the speed that they need to complete their work is obviously going to have a significantly different experience than someone who's trying to work on their laptop in a library parking lot to take an exam. As faculty and staff members, we have to be mindful of the incredibly different experiences for some of our low income and first-generation students.

We have been mailing out hotspots to students to boost their access to the Internet. It can be handled through the Office of the Dean of Students critical need fund. If you have a student who is struggling with Internet, reach out to the dean of students office.

Social-Emotional Learning Tips


At Horizons, we consider ourselves to be a high-touch student support services environment, so what happens when students shift to a no-touch environment where they can't come in and meet face-to-face with friends and fellow students? Social-Emotional Learning Tips for Student Support is a phenomenal link to help students learn how to understand and manage their emotions, set goals in doing so, show empathy towards other people, and establish positive relationships. Right now, students are experiencing trauma.

What may concern first-generation students living this experience?


It seems online learning because of COVID-19 is another invisible barrier that first-generation students have to overcome. They sense that they are navigating this journey on their own for the first time anyway. Many of our students carry imposter syndrome. There is concern as to whether or not they will be able to graduate on time, or graduate at all.

Secondly, there are psychological components to the fact that students have to go home. Many first-generation students are navigating this experience for the first time academically. Many have worked hard to progress themselves to the point where they're pursuing an educational opportunity and maybe don't have to return home. Returning home may feel like regression, reverting to the role that they had prior to establishing this new identity. 

Impacts of COVID-19 on First-Gen Students is a phenomenal link. There are conversations on moving from an in-person way of offering our services to online. You'll find additional background information related to COVID-19, the impact on higher education across the board, plus information and resources ranging from supporting students through COVID-19 to how to work from home without losing your sanity. 


National research indicates that first-generation students may lack familial support, either in their education or being able to help answer questions. Yet, most of the research that we have done at Purdue on our first-generation students indicates the opposite. Generally speaking, our first-gen students feel that their families are very supportive of them pursuing education, that they try the best that they can to help answer questions, or help them get connected to resources. But, the rising challenge is now that our students have gone back home, they tell us their families don't fully understand their situation. The family may not realize that when a student is sitting on the couch on their computer, their doing legitimate work, not playing around on the computer. The student is not available to help with a sibling or cook a meal.

We have students who have to share rooms with other family members, or work in common spaces within the house. We encourage students to have conversations with their family about designating school time versus family time.

Right now, we're focused on current students, but we have an incoming class. As if the transition to college is not difficult enough, imagine being a high school senior who's a first- generation college student right now. For those of you who have high contact with incoming students, I encourage you to practice extra outreach, especially beyond email. Whatever you can do to make time for virtual office hours or videos or taking time to explain processes as we figure out what summer and fall looks like, will be particularly helpful for those incoming first-gen students.


The Hope Center for College Community and Justice does work related to wealth inequality and economic insecurity that face college students on a regular basis. Their COVID-19 resources discuss vulnerable populations. For example, there's some information on SNAP eligibility, as well as guides and webinars both for those who work with students, and for students themselves. They also have a student relief fund for which they are collecting money.

What may concern students in the LGBTQ+ community living this experience?


The Trevor Project is a suicide prevention hotline that also has a list of resources. Being away from campus is one of the challenges for LGBTQ students, many of whom are able to be themselves on campus in a way that they are not in their home environments. A move back home, possibly to an unsupportive family situation, can be challenging. There is a variety of resources on The Trevor Project site and recommendations for how to follow up with those students.

What may concern students who are underrepresented numerically and how they are living in this experience?


They may have already established safe spaces on campus where they feel a sense of connectivity and can be themselves. Many students feel less connected if they don’t have those opportunities. I am concerned about attrition. Students may say, "If the one component that was keeping me engaged and connected to the institution is no longer the same, what reason do I have for returning?" We want to pay attention to the attrition levels of those students who connected with certain spaces on campus that helped them take ownership of Purdue University as their school.


Underrepresented minorities already face systemic and daily overt and covert racism, and it is amplified in the COVID-19 situation. Students might be facing increased prevalence of microaggressions or racist narratives in general as they're moving throughout their community or online. Be proactive and have conversations about what the University is doing and how we as staff are thinking of issues related to diversity. Vocalize that. By and large, students are aware of these issues, and they're aware of each other's shared experiences. Be sure to continue the conversation with them in this time. Via email say, "Hey, I don't know if all of you have Internet. I don't know what your home situation is. Let's talk about that." That encourages them to think about those issues.

Create opportunities for students to support other students. Encourage them to have Zoom check ins with one another, or a pen pal or mentorship situation. Students can support other students, and they're interested in doing so. They just need a bit of a push to get that going.

There's a lot of concern regarding the increased levels of threat for Asian-American students who may be experiencing harassment at this time. 

Related to students with disabilities—think about students who are now trying to find healthcare off campus. They may be struggling to find resources, so be sure to connect with them to offer the help through the Disability Resource Center.


There may be some stigma or uncertainty about asking questions, but now is not the time to be shy. Ask questions. Are they eating? Are they healthy both mentally and physically? What is their home situation like? Do they have access to resources? I can chat with folks if anyone is unsure about how to ask some of those questions. Think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Our students are not going to be academically successful if they don't have their basic needs met.

Celebrate student successes. Many students have already been accepted to grad school, or have jobs, completed research, or received an “A “on a test. Take time to celebrate those wins knowing that this is an emotional and difficult time.

Think about the airline analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before you help someone else. It's important to take care of ourselves. If you're a supervisor, check in on your team. We have many first-generation faculty and staff across campus who maybe have never worked in a telework environment before. We have faculty and staff who came from low income backgrounds, who are underrepresented or part of the LGBTQ+ community and who have a variety of other identities. They may be experiencing challenges, as well. What we're talking about today also applies to our colleagues. 


Humanize yourself. Perhaps create a brief video and speak to your students from your home in what we call civvies, civilian clothing, so to speak. Say, "Listen, we know this is a tough time. We're thinking about you. And not only are we thinking about you, we're going through this with you."




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