The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing social and economic disparities in the United States. As college faculty, we have seen this play out among our students. Our students have communicated that their stress levels are high as they struggle with grief, isolation, job loss and lack of motivation.
In March 2020, when campus shutdowns began, we and 14 colleagues were in the midst of conducting a survey of more than 3,000 California undergraduates, including those who were undocumented and from mixed-status families. Our goal was to examine the impact of contemporary immigration policies that marginalize undocumented immigrants and individuals with precarious legal statuses. Given the timing of our survey, we also asked participants about the early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their educational experiences.
Our findings (published here and here) reveal that the pandemic has disproportionately affected those young adults and their families. As colleges and universities continue to engage in remote learning and limited campus activities, we identify three ways that faculty members can support and advocate for immigration-impacted students.
No. 1: Strike a balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities. Many students have struggled with the move from in-person instruction to remote learning. In our study, a substantial proportion of undocumented students (43 percent), U.S. citizen students with undocumented parents (48 percent) and even U.S. citizen students whose parents are lawfully present (41 percent) reported that the pandemic had affected their academics “a great deal.” These young adults shared that their ability to pay attention to their academics had been compromised by having to conduct their schooling from often overcrowded family homes. Others identified “difficulty in concentrating on longer assignments” and being “not motivated to do my classes because they’re all online.”
Of the three groups, immigration-impacted students identified the most challenges and underlying strains that distracted them from their academics. One undocumented student shared, “My family doesn’t understand that I am still in school. I have chores, have to get groceries, drive people places, get gas, cook, take care of my cousins … I have to pause my Zoom lectures more than 10 times because someone at my house is talking, yelling, cooking, playing, screaming … Sometimes I watch my Zoom recordings at 1 a.m. because it is the only quiet hours I get at home.”
Reflections on their inability to concentrate were also layered with immigration-related strains: “I cannot concentrate … I think of how my mom’s work is overworking her with no benefit and no overtime pay just because she is undocumented.”
Given these challenges and strains, asynchronous course delivery is an important option to accommodate students’ new family and financial responsibilities. However, this course format may also deprive students of opportunities to learn from their peers or interact with their instructors. Faculty members should try to balance these trade-offs. For example, in synchronous courses, they could offer alternative activities to make up for missed synchronous activities and allow students to turn off their cameras during live lectures. For asynchronous classes, faculty could institute small group activities or projects.
No. 2: Guide students in identifying ways to promote their mental well-being. Thirty percent of undocumented students reported that the pandemic negatively affected their mental health “a great deal,” compared to 23 percent of U.S. citizens with undocumented parents and 21 percent of U.S. citizens whose parents have lawful immigration status. Undocumented students and citizens with undocumented parents often indicated that general pandemic uncertainty was layered on top of their own and/or their parents’ undocumented status.
One undocumented student shared that they were…