Tag Archives: first-generation students

COVID-19 and Higher Education: A Q&A with Howard Marchitello, Dean of Rutgers University—Camden

Earlier this year most colleges and universities shuttered and moved to virtual classes. Dormitories closed, study abroad programs were canceled, and graduation moved online. 

For many college students, campus closures created significant challenges. Some don’t have personal access to the technology needed to engage in virtual courses. Others don’t have a home to go to or a way to get food outside of their dorm. And after such a significant disruption, some first-generation and lower-income students may not make it back when schools finally reopen.

Howard Marchitello, Dean of Rutgers University—CamdenI recently spoke with Howard Marchitello, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University—Camden to get a sense of how the school is responding to the crisis and meeting students’ needs. (Full disclosure: My colleague Max Marchitello is Dean Marchitello’s son.)

The conversation below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

COVID-19 moved from a potential problem to a full-blown pandemic fairly quickly from mid-February into March. What were your initial reactions and concerns when it became clear that Rutgers would need to close its campuses? 

While we knew the Coronavirus would be an issue, it wasn’t immediately clear how big of an issue it would be. But once we knew we needed to take drastic measures, there was shock and disbelief across the campus, since we have never encountered anything of this magnitude before. Chief among my many worries was how we would keep everybody together, even as we dispersed students and faculty back to their homes. And sending folks home was not as straightforward as it sounds, because some of our residential students don’t have homes to go to. This was a big concern. 

How did you help those students who couldn’t go home once the campus closed? 

We had more than 100 students who had to stay on campus: international students who couldn’t go home and students who didn’t have a home. These students were able to live on campus. And since Camden is a bit of a food desert, we coordinated with the corporation that provides dining services to provide meals. We had a contingent of staff, some from the dining halls and some who had been reassigned from other areas, delivering meals to the residence halls. Nearly half these students have since found housing options in the city or surrounding areas, and the remaining 50 students are still living on our campus. We continue to provide dining services for them, as well as other supports, including our food pantry and our Wellness Center [a comprehensive health center], which has remained open and serving students throughout the semester. Continue reading

poster for film: “Can We Talk? Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color: Sense of Belonging and Obstacles to STEM Fields”

“Can We Talk?” What Inclusion Means For Those of Us Who Count As “Diverse”

In many cases, “diversity” has become a code word for hiring or simply acknowledging historically marginalized groups such as people of color or women. This can range from boasting hiring statistics to low-effort activities such as participating in a career fair at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) when looking to recruit talent. Once the diversity targets are met or there are one or two “diversity success stories,” then that is it. Mission accomplished. And, let’s be honest, people feel great when they can spout off statistics that illustrate the strides their workplace or academic institution has made in the name of “diversity.”

But what does that mean for those of us who are the “diverse” population? Belonging and feeling welcomed is another beast that is often overlooked in diversity efforts. I recently got to watch the documentary “Can We Talk? Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color,” which examines inclusion in the Science, Technology, Math, and Science (STEM) fields and features raw and unfiltered conversations about the struggles of “diverse” individuals on their paths to success.

While the film focused on the experiences of those in STEM, I think the lessons extend to education organizations generally. As “Can We Talk?” highlighted (and as I have experienced personally), many organizations fall short when they believe that diversity is an end-game in itself. The reality is that this is only the beginning. Being accepted or hired into an organization is one thing, but being accepted (and understood) by your peers is another. The film highlighted several powerful themes in the experiences of people of color who were made to feel as though they did not belong. A couple of moments that stood out to me:

“Oh, this is very well-written. Did you have help?”

Days after completing her qualifying exams, these exact words were spoken to an African-American female student studying Neuroscience by her professor. Whether or not that was his intention, the words made the student feel as though she wasn’t competent. Continue reading