The Achievement Gap + COVID-19 = An Opportunity for Higher Education

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The Achievement Gap + COVID-19 = An Opportunity for Higher Education

Posted by Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Kenya Hobbs

Teach and Mentor Students Rather Than Seeing Them Through A Deficit Lens

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” This quote, attributed to Winston Churchill, is a constant reminder that perspective matters. 

The past year and a half have been challenging for many of us and particularly so for Medaille students. As a result of COVID-19, they have been learning and experiencing the educational process in quite different and often disruptive ways. Many students went from showing up for in-person classes to showing up in virtual spaces to receive instruction. Along the way, we all learned more about the inequities that exist in access to technology, quiet spaces conducive to learning and safe spaces for self-expression.

For many first-generation, low-income BIPOC students arriving from under-resourced high schools, challenges abound. Learning to navigate new virtual education platforms during a global pandemic, with scarce resources, has been a daunting experience. Thus, their transition from high school to college was and will be even more difficult. 

Clearly, these circumstances have not helped close what is known as the achievement gap. However, these times have presented us with a wonderful opportunity. We can take this moment to reassess and recalibrate our approaches to reducing the opportunity gap. Herein lies the chance for educators to activate our superpowers to teach and mentor these students rather than seeing them through a deficit lens. 

I had the privilege of speaking with a few colleagues recently. One of them said to me, “We are all accountable for the success of every student that gains acceptance into this institution” — a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Do we ignore the reality that students have travelled vastly different paths to reach this point in their educational journey, leaving some of them ill prepared for the road ahead? Of course not. Acknowledging that deficits exist is where we start, but it is not where we finish. So then, it is important to develop and implement strategies that are within our control to mitigate the obstacles and increase access to resources.

Another colleague emphasized the importance of Medaille being a student-ready college with the ability to shape-shift as necessary to meet the needs of our students. This is simply another way of seeing the opportunity in the difficulty. 

As we prepare for this next semester, let us remember to keep the following in mind:

  1. While we can’t change what has happened, we can change what will happen to improve our students’ abilities to persist and graduate.
  2. It’s not an “achievement gap” but an “opportunity gap” that we are looking to close. We believe that when students are provided with the appropriate resources and opportunities to engage in expansive educational experiences, they will accomplish more. 
  3. Finally, every person — whatever your role or title — should be asking yourself this question daily: What am I doing to contribute to the success of Medaille students? 

Let’s approach this coming semester joyful for the opportunity we have to contribute to the growth and development of all our students by bringing our very best every day.

Those who see the difficulty in the opportunity will lament all the work they have to do, while those who see the opportunity in the difficulty celebrate all the work they get to do. Which perspective will you adopt?

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