DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Well, I think there's a number of things that we can do, and because of the American Rescue Plan Act funding that's coming in, we're going to be positioned to do more of the things that we should be doing all along.
I wanted to start by saying that gap was there before the pandemic. We were alerted to it in part by the huge digital divide that occurred that we saw. A third of kids did not have computers and hotspots at home to even engage in digital learning, larger classes in a lot of communities, the impact of the pandemic, which was traumatic in very intense ways in communities of color and in low-income communities. All of those things, of course, were activated and contributing to this learning gap that is growing.
What we need to do, of course, is put in the resources not only for intensive instruction. We've learned a lot about how, for example, intensive tutoring can make a difference very rapidly in closing achievement gaps, and some states, California and many others, are putting those kinds of tools in place, but also counseling and social and emotional supports because we learn when we are able to be positively engaged when our brains are free of stigma, trauma, and anxieties that so many kids are carrying with them back to school. The other piece of the puzzle will be the kind of supports for counseling and social and emotional learning that are necessary for students.
MR. SCOTT: Well, we know that low-income students, students with disabilities, and many Black, Latino, and Native American students experience significant challenges with remote learning. These communities were also hit hardest by COVID-19 itself, and so, I guess, how can public schools better consider and address the needs of marginalized student populations?
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Well, we need to undo the inequalities that we already have in the system as we're recovering from the pandemic. So we have a very wide income gap in the country, the widest gap between the most wealthy and the lowest income that we've had since 1929, before the crash that occurred. The top 1 percent of people control 50 percent of the wealth, more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of people. So we've got to be able to move resources into the places where the needs are the greatest.
On top of that, we often had unequal school spending. So we spend more money, public money, on the education of affluent children in many states, more than 30 states, than we do on the poor.
So among the things we need to do is begin to rectify that, and that is beginning to happen. New York State, which has had a lawsuit for 30 years going on to try to correct the big inequalities in funding, just announced that they'll begin to fund the more equitable school formula over the coming years. California has already made some strides in that direction, but it's doubling down on getting more resources to the students who need them most.
And what do we do with those resources? We need to be sure that we are reducing class sizes so that it can be personalized, so that children can be directly supported by their teachers. We need to be sure that we're putting in place, as I said, the kind of mental health and social service supports. The federal money and much state money as in California, where I'm on the state board of education, so I'm watching that closely, is going to support community schools, which provide wraparound services, social services, mental health, health care, so that all kids are able to be in school ready to learn.
And so we have a big agenda for equity in the country. Many, many states are aware of this and pursuing it. The new federal money, 120-plus-billion dollars to K-12 education, can be used to rectify a lot of these inequalities, and that's the agenda we need to have in front of us.
MR. SCOTT: Lots of changes coming up, and one of those is that in-person learning is going to resume in many school districts and states where it already has not, but technology is going to remain an important piece for the future of education. But we know there's a digital divide between affluent communities, predominantly white communities, and those that are more populated with people of color and those from low-income backgrounds. How do we bridge that digital divide?
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Well, that is one of the things that was the earliest awareness in the pandemic, and many states are working very diligently. I think in California, we've closed the digital divide probably by more than two-thirds by reaching out to get digital devices in the hands of children. About a year ago, I was going with the governor, the first partner, the state superintendent to kind of door-to-door to corporations and foundations and saying please put money in the kitty so we could get computers for all our kids.
We now have public policy. We now have funding streams. Districts have really reached out. They've gotten hotspots for kids and families. They've gotten computers, but we have to continue it. We don't want to go back to the old normal where we think, "Oh, we're back in school in person. Those kids don't need computers at home." They do. They need them. Their families need them not only to be able to do homework and get on the Web and do research for their academic studies but also as families to be able to get benefits and get employment, and all of the things that we need to do in the world today require that digitization.
And so, again, the American Rescue Plan Act has a major commitment to closing the digital divide, and then states, many of them, are adding on, not only to be sure everyone has devices and hotspots but to close the sort of last-mile infrastructure in rural areas and in urban areas where the bandwidth is not adequate to support all the people.
We are making progress on it. We need to just hold that as a commitment that we will close the digital divide in this coming year or two and maintain a system that is equitable. It needs to be like electricity or water. Every household has to have access.
MR. SCOTT: So, continuing that idea, I mean, you talked a bit about the challenges that remote learning posed for some students, but what specific role do you see technology and digital tools playing in the future of education?
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Yeah. I mean, this is really an opportunity. We have had to innovate. You know, we closed the school doors physically, and people were like, "Oh, my gosh." But all the teachers in this country have had the opportunity to learn to begin to use technology. Some of them have done incredibly innovative things using interactive digital tools for kids around content, connecting, the collaborations that kids may engage in to learn, not only within their classroom or their school but even with children across the world who are studying similar things. We've seen a tremendous amount of productive innovation.
We have research that shows that ways that we can use technology to enhance learning and to ensure that it is even more effective than just in the classroom, so that's part of the agenda is to use technology when kids are back to school in person, allow more flexibility in the ways in which we structure the learning process so that we're taking advantage of both in-person instruction and the relationships that matter so much, and the uses of technology to connect to people around the world, to information around the world.
Remember that knowledge is now exploding, and kids are working with knowledge that is being invented every year. We have new knowledge created each year than in the years previous. So we are needing for all of our students to understand how to access information, put it together, make judgments, create products and solutions to problems, be able to vet those, and technology is key to that. And teaching them how to be in that mode of learning as well as in the in-person modes of learning that are also important is going to be essential for them to survive in the economy and the society that they are entering.
MR. SCOTT: You know, another topic that has been viewed as essential for the well-being of students has been mental health--
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Yes.
MR. SCOTT: --during this pandemic, and I would love to hear your thoughts on the role of schools and, you know, not just addressing the academic gaps but also the unique mental toll that the pandemic has had on students.
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Yeah. We need to realize that the experience of the pandemic was a dramatically unequal experience. Some people who were affluent would stay home with their multiple computers in their houses with high bandwidth and maybe complain about whether they had to share the bandwidth a little bit with others in their household or something.
Other people really experienced a very different year. Households that were, you know, food insecure, housing insecure, a lot of people were struggling with evictions. Of course, illness was much greater in communities of color and in low-income communities, and so many kids experienced the illness or death of members of their family. They experienced food insecurity and housing insecurity. They experienced the trauma of not knowing what was going to happen the next day. They experienced the trauma of isolation and not being easily able to be connected, either in person or by digital means, with their classmates.
A lot of kids were trying to do their homework on a phone or deal with bandwidth that would cut off all the time. All of those things are stressful. Children will come back to school carrying those stressors with them, carrying that set of traumatic experiences. It's really important that when we start school this year that educators have the time and the space to create a trusting environment, a caring environment, that counselors are at hand as well, that there's the opportunity for kids to be able to share what they have experienced, to get supports, to process the experience, to feel the love that is needed for them to be able to feel that they can reattach to school, that they can have caring adults who will help them through what they've experienced.
One of my fears is that when kids have experienced trauma, they often will be very hyper vigilant and emotionally activated, and the behaviors that they may bring with them may be misunderstood as misbehavior and punished rather than met with support and emotional opportunity to process and reconnect. And so we also need what we think of as restorative approaches to reentering school where children--where the schools are trauma-informed, where they are healing-oriented, where kids are met with that kind of caring concern, and where the resources are at hand to help them in this next stage.
I do think that what's great about the new moment is that educators across the country really are prioritizing social and emotional well-being, doing that in a lot of different ways, bringing programs and support systems and opportunities for this kind of healing-oriented practice into schools, and that's a good thing.
It also turns out that academic performance increases when you attend to children and their feelings and their needs. So we will see academic benefits, but we will, most importantly, see the responses that children need to be whole people and to be attached to school, and to adults and to their peers and colleagues.
MR. SCOTT: I want to pivot to an audience question for a second. We know that there are barriers preventing diversification of the teaching profession, and it would be great to hear your thoughts on what some of them are, and how can those be reduced? That's a question from Adriane Dorrington in Washington, D.C.
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Thank you, Adriane, and let me just preface my response by saying we know that diversity in the teaching profession is critically important. Not only do we have evidence that teachers of color are effective, more effective with students of color--and this is particularly true for Black teachers and Black students--you see academic and attainment gains when Black students have the opportunity to have Black teachers. But also, we know that in order to provide a sort of culturally responsive setting, you need a diverse group of educators in the school so that they can help one another and the students both see role models and understand the cultural experiences that different children bring. So this is a very important part of having a successful school system.
And the key thing for diversifying the teaching profession is not only the outreach to teachers and getting them into the profession, which means we need to pay for their education, people of color who are candidates in teaching carry a lot more debt load in college and need to be able to afford to enter the profession and need to be able to get the financial supports to get through college, so we know that service scholarships, things that are teacher residency programs that underwrite your entry to the profession are very effective at recruiting teachers of color, getting them in with the training that will allow them to stay because people who are well-trained stay at twice the rate of people who have come into the profession without full training.
Then we need mentoring for them so that they get the support at the beginning that they need, and then we need to be sure that the environments that they're in are caring, responsive environments in which they're experiencing a positive colleague group and support from administrators.
We bring more teachers of color in than we retain, and so we have to focus as much on the experiences of those new teachers once they're in as we do getting them into the classroom.
MR. SCOTT: Since we're talking about diversity, I wanted to bring up a topic that's been on the minds and mouths of many people in the political space, which is where I normally dwell, and that's critical race theory. You know, there's been so much debate about whether critical race theory should be taught in schools or not. Why do you think the country is in such a panic about this, and what are your thoughts on critical race theory? Should it be taught or not?
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Well, most people misunderstand what it is. Critical race theory is a legal theory.
MR. SCOTT: Right. Law school.
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: It's something that was developed by legal scholars to look at laws and regulations, and the idea is that you look at laws and regulations with an eye towards whether they are promoting systemic discrimination in society. We have a lot of laws, not only during the era of slavery but in the many, many decades since around segregation, around redlining, around the way in which people are assigned to school districts and funding is allocated to those schools and so on. And we can't change those things unless we look at them. So critical race theory says look at those things so that you can change them.
Many people misunderstand what that is, what the term means, but in fact, it's not something that people typically teach in school, except in the context of history and social studies classes where you might look at law and policy as they have unfolded over many years.
I think there's a very different set of questions around how do we make every student from every background well respected, well connected, understood, not stigmatized in school, and that really has to do with being fair and supportive to all children and creating a multicultural environment. That really has nothing to do with critical race theory as a form of legal scholarship.
MR. SCOTT: As we look towards the fall semester, the CDC says that fully vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks indoors, and you know the Delta variant is rapidly spreading here in the U.S., especially in the South. And I just wanted to know if you thought that was the right call to make.
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Well, I, as I had mentioned, am president of the state board in California, and we are requiring masking for everyone at the start of school because the Delta variant is here, because we don't want to discriminate between vaccinated and unvaccinated students. We want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, but most of our students cannot be vaccinated. There isn't a vaccine for children, and not only do we have the Delta variant, but we have Epsilon and a number of other ones all the way up to Lambda.
Case rates in the United States are doubling. Over the last two weeks, case rates have doubled. Missouri ran out of ventilators a week or so ago, and they're already experiencing some of the trauma that we had before. I think we need to be safe, and as soon as we can, as soon as we have people vaccinated, as soon as we have responses to the variants, then, of course, everyone wants to take their mask off. But until then, we should do the safest things we can in schools for kids.
MR. SCOTT: Well, unfortunately, we are out of time for this segment. Linda Darling-Hammond, thank you so much for coming to talk with us. It was a fascinating discussion, and we hope you come back soon.
DR. DARLING-HAMMOND: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.
MR. SCOTT: Please stay with us. I will be right back with DeRionne Pollard in a few minutes.
MS. MESERVE: Hello. I'm Jeanne Meserve.
The pandemic hasn't just disrupted K-through-12 education. Higher ed has been impacted too, particularly historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs. Why? Because coronavirus disproportionately impacted the African American community and because these institutions have been historically underfunded.
Here to discuss is Shari Slate. Shari is the chief inclusion and collaboration officer at Cisco. She is also the vice president of Inclusive Future and Strategy.
Shari, great to have you with us. I know Cisco is contributing $150 million to the Student Freedom Initiative for Technology and Tuition Assistance. Why did Cisco decide that this was the place it wanted to invest?
MS. SLATE: Jeanne, it's so good to see you. You see, last year absolutely was a reckoning. It was reckoning for companies like Cisco that have long been on this journey to solve for fairness, equity, and inclusion.
But what I can tell you is that it shined a light on the size of the gap between our aspiration and our efforts. What we know today is that we have to take bold, intentional, and deliberate action, and we have to do it in new and different ways. What that means is we have to move beyond the traditional, the traditional of giving money and expecting someone else to good with it and/or taking an action one time.
We also know that we have to coalesce with partners, partners who want to create a recurring impact that will last for generations to come. This is what's required in this landscape to meet this moment and every moment that comes after it.
MS. MESERVE: So tell me about the technology investment. What will you do in that regard?
MS. SLATE: So, Jeanne, our purpose is to power an inclusive future for all. It was the foundation for how we built our social justice beliefs and our actions, and they actually serve us in how we are going to create, create what we would call a recurring impact for generations to come.
Our action for HBCUs is that we are actually going to do our part to preserve the legacy of HBCUs for generations to come. Many might ask why, and the reason is that education is the foundation for generational change. And HBCUs, in particular, are creating the lion's share of Black talent in America, and they are absolutely vital for creating an extraordinary pipeline of talent for the world. So, we are excited to do our part, to do our part to help preserve the legacy of HBCUs, to ensure that they have the tools and the resources to be relevant in the modern age.
More importantly, we are giving $100 million in software, services, and hardware to ensure they have the infrastructure, the infrastructure to compete today and in the future.
The beautiful thing is that we're not doing it alone. We are actually doing it with partners, two extraordinary partners, Jeanne, SFI, which is helping us to identify the schools, and AVC Technologies. They are actually one of our Triple Gold partners, and they are helping us to do the assessments and install the equipment.
MS. MESERVE: So another $50 million is going towards tuition assistance. I understand it's going to pay ultimately for the education of 4,500 students. Why did you feel that was the place and that was the way to spend that money?
MS. SLATE: It's a great question. When we saw what the Student Freedom Initiative was doing to remove the barriers to education for Black students, we were inspired. We were inspired to join them, and here it why.
SFI is actually taking an innovative approach. They are taking something that's been successful, endowments, and applying it in a new and different way, in a way that is actually going to solve for a challenge that has been longstanding. What we saw is the opportunity to partner with them and to create what we would call "recurring impact." You see, this is about how do we create impact beyond one school, one class, but for the entire HBCU system.
At Cisco, we believe that inspiration is the new currency, and it's going to create pathways to prosperity for people and communities around the world.
MS. MESERVE: So, Shari, "inspiration" and "corporation" aren't always two words that you hear in the same sentence. What would you say to individuals who might be skeptical about corporations' true commitment to doing good?
MS. SLATE: So I have to say I think it starts with leading by example. Our CEO, Chuck Robbins, last year at Davos said a 21st century company has to truly care about its stakeholders, not just the majority but all of them. What he was talking about is that we have to think beyond the business approach when we think about impact. We have to put communities at the center, and when we do that, that gives us the ability to see new opportunities for solving some of the biggest challenges that they face.
If we just take the Student Freedom Initiative and our seed investment of $50 million, this is just the beginning. The reality of being able to support students in perpetuity actually will not be seen unless we raise $450 million.
Now, the beautiful thing, Jeanne, is that that means there's room at this table. There is room at this table for other individuals and companies to join us. The pathway for us to actually serve people and communities for generations to come means that we have to coalesce, inspire each other, and take action together.
This HBCU action is only one of many that Cisco has. I encourage you, if you’re listening, to go and read our beliefs and our actions, which are on Cisco.com, but in terms of what we are looking to do together, inspiration is the new currency. We must inspire each other to either create new actions or join each other in delivering the actions that we aspire to achieve. Our way to do this is to do it together, and Cisco is all in.
MS. MESERVE: Shari Slate, chief inclusion and collaboration officer and also vice president of Inclusive Future and Strategy at Cisco, thanks so much for joining us today.
And now back to The Washington Post.
MR. SCOTT: Welcome back. I'm Eugene Scott, a political reporter here in The Washington Post, and my next guest is DeRionne Pollard. She's the president of Montgomery College, here in Maryland; and the incoming president of Nevada State College.
Dr. Pollard, welcome back to Washington Post Live. Good to see you again.
DR. POLLARD: Delighted to be here and so happy to see you.
MR. SCOTT: There's been a lot of change since we had you on here last, and we want to start talking about the pandemic, and specifically the digital divide.
So, we know many colleges saw drops in enrollment during the pandemic. What was your experience like leading a community college during the pandemic and, you know, one that has one of the most diverse student populations in the country?
DR. POLLARD: Eugene, I think for most college leaders at this time, leading during the pandemic provided us, I think, with an opportunity to really stretch and think about things very differently, both in terms of the delivery of our mission; but also, thinking about all of those factors that truly impact students' success.
So, for me, I found myself very much committed to amplifying conversations around narratives that spoke to intersections. So, as you described earlier, and even the clip that I spoke to a few months ago, when we think about the complexity of the student experience in higher education, whether it be a two-year institution or a four-year institution, we oftentimes put students in these little boxes. And we say, this is what a student looks like; this is their lived experience. And oftentimes, that's based on the narrative of higher education many years ago, those of us who were successful navigating that system. What we don't recognize and appreciate the fact is that many of our students' lives, particularly as it relates to this pandemic, it only amplified the intersection, the disparities that existed.
So, for instance, when we have conversations about college students, we should be also talking about parenting college students. When we have conversations about the fact that the digital divide was impacting students and their ability to log into classes, we also recognize it's probably impacted their ability to work. It impacted their ability to move effortlessly within the social network of our communities.
So, what we are really experiencing right now, in all the spaces that I step into, talking with college leaders, talking with faculty and staff, is how do we begin to really look at this narrative that suggests that college students are 18 years old; they're being largely supported by their parents; they're going to go stay in residential institutions that have--parents will be sending them care packages every weekend. They're going to go out and party on the weekends. They're going to go out and join fraternities and sororities and not necessarily be actively engaged with our communities. That is not the dominant narrative of higher education. In fact, it's the minority of higher education.
So, how do we make sure that we amplify those stories of equality that really speak to who our students are today, that captures--the fact is your previous speaker, Professor Linda Darling, who I just admire so tremendously, talked about this idea of how our lives as students are so impacted by issues of trauma, how they're impacted by issues of poverty, how they're impacted by issues of inequality that really are things we have to address in higher education in the broader conversations right now.
MR. SCOTT: I so appreciated your point about needing to rethink what a college student looks like. I'm a Millennial, and we often talk about how people have this idea about Millennials all being 20, when the fact is the oldest group of Millennials are now 40. And so, that certainly has to rethink how we talk about them when it comes to policy and education.
We talk a lot about the challenges that online learning have presented. Can you talk a bit about some of the pros that this experience has presented, and opportunities for your students?
DR. POLLARD: I really appreciate that observation. As a Gen Xer, there's certain stereotypes that go through all of our generations.
But what I think is interesting about this is kind of related to this question. We describe online learning, the hybrid learning experience, is that one that potentially had a lot of learning loss for students. The reality is that I think it had a lot of also benefits for our students. Many of our students, we found, were able to access their learning in nontraditional times. So, if we think about a traditional classroom experience either being 8:00 to 12:00 or then again being in the evening, a 6:00 to 9:00, something like that, what we saw is that students were actually able to access not only classroom materials in their learning overnight, after they had taken--putting their children to bed, help them with homework, or so forth--we also saw them accessing support services in nontraditional times and having greater ability to navigate our systems that way.
That, for me, is one of the big ah-ha moments that we had, is that, again, we acknowledged the fact--we had a whole two things in our head at the same time, and I say this all the time, that college students are both learners and consumers. And yet, we designed their learning experience around a consumer mentality that, oftentimes, is a very traditional 8:00 to 5:00 type of traditional workday. That is not what our students are doing. They're working 8:00 to 5:00. It's unreasonable and unfair for us to expect them then to be able to access our services and programs during those timeframes.
So, for us, we saw, with online work and learning that took place during the pandemic, we saw our students accessing support services, much more robustly engage with counseling, with our tutoring services, much more engagement around student life activities. I observed students having quote/unquote "dance parties" they would not have traditionally been able to access in a workday or traditional college day, but they could come online and do it on the weekends together, doing painting exercises.
So, the reality about this is that the comprehensive student experience, I believe, was broadened and amplified during this time during online and it helped make sure that some students are left behind. But conversely, and I think an important point for us to recognize is that there--while there are many students who benefitted and excelled during this time, there are also many students for whom this type of learning environment did not work for them. So, they need a hybrid model or they need to be back on campus. And as a result of that, most college universities that I know of are going to be doing that. They're going to be delivering almost in three modalities, both in an--first, in an online environment; secondly, in a hybrid where you have online and a face-to-face; and then, certainly, in many face-to-face services, which I think are going to be essential for the future of higher education.
MR. SCOTT: Were there any adaptations made out of necessity during the pandemic that worked really well or that you think should remain post-COVID?
DR. POLLARD: You know what? I believe every challenge is an opportunity for growth. In my own personal life, I just had this conversation with someone earlier, every time that I've had a challenge or problem, it has allowed me to grow. And as a result of that, I think higher education right now is growing as a result of this moment. In addition to looking at how we can deliver services and instruction in an online environment using all of the different modalities and platforms that are available, we also had a clarion call for us around the equity of this work, and I think that was something that really allowed us to think about the delivery of our mission, whether that be at a two-year institution or a four-year institution.
I'd also offer to you that the work around professional development became essential. We're a learning organization, so we typically have had robust professional development programs. What became very important, I think, is that every faculty member who is a gifted instructor teaching in traditional methodologies in a face-to-face classroom may not have the experience or training to do that in an online environment. So, I know at my own college, we did deep and rich investments in professional development, which I believe we will continue. So, how do we begin to deliver instruction to faculty and to staff, I think, is going to be important, thinking about the technology that we need to have in our work spaces.
You know, one of the hidden conversations that I think we need to really magnify in this moment has been conversations about the impact of the pandemic on our faculty and staff. Many of us are very comfortable talking about the impact of the pandemic on our students, and we talk about poverty; we talk about basic needs and security; we talk about trauma. We talk about all of those things that we know were a part of the student experience. I would offer to you and say that we should pause and have that same type of conversation about the impact of this pandemic on our faculty and staff. While they were delivering the programs and instructions, services, that we had, they were also experiencing the same trauma, the same loss, the same environments. And we make assumptions about their ability to navigate that.
You talked earlier about mental health. Mental health is something that we have to talk about, both in terms of students, but also the employees of the institution. So, I'm hopeful that we have disrupted as an organization, this kind of everyday, ever semester type of mentality, that we're really looking at these moments of intersection, these moments that things are said to us, ah-ha, let's think about how we can move into this in a post-pandemic reality.
MR. SCOTT: Those comments in terms of the things we think about affecting students but not quite faculty and staff made me think about how often, when I think about the digital divide, I don't factor in faculty and staff, when the reality is there's probably a digital divide there with some.
DR. POLLARD: Yeah, we were passing out thousands of devices to students, whether it be laptops, hotspots, a lot of our students who were working with our disabled student services programs, we were providing specialized technology to them.
And here's a thing that's really interesting about this: We make assumptions about the employees of our organizations. We all think of them as having robust technology at home, access to broadband, access to technologies that will allow them to talk to students in multiple platforms, that they have a camera, they have a microphone, they have the robust needs of that. The reality about that is that many of them don't. And if we wanted to be able to be a comprehensive, full-serving institution at this time, we recognize that we needed to provide those same things to our students. We spend--I mean, excuse me, to our employees.
We do a lot of work, as well, within our work environment, talking about ergonomics, and we talk about workspaces. We make assumptions again about what employees have at home to do that. The reality that so many of our faculty and staff, in their interactions with students, were referring them to community services and looking at the safety net and helping those students to understand how to navigate that. Guess what? Our faculty and staff need to do that, as well. They had loss, they have family, where they may have still been working and receiving a salary from Montgomery College or Nevada State College, the reality is that their parents or their spouse or their children may not have been receiving that. So, they are helping to support those environments.
So, again, this idea of intersections, I think, is going to be important. We have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that people fit into these nice little packages, and in these packages, we've identified a set of characteristics that respond to who they are and what they do. The reality is that's not the case. And as an institution of higher education, institution that should be a caring employer as well as a caring provider of higher education, we have to look at how we do both of those things in very deliberate ways, responding to the needs of our students as well as our employees. And there's a third layer for many of us: It's also the needs of our community. Because we were a space where community members came to us to use facilities, to use technology, that that didn't exist during the pandemic. So, now, we've got to think about how we help support those community groups that oftentimes support our students, but also add to the value and richness of our communities.
MR. SCOTT: So, thinking about that, you know, it's just related to the digital divide, how do we close that, especially related to, you know, racial and economic disparities, when it comes to equity and access to education? How do we fix that?
DR. POLLARD: Yeah, if I could answer that question, Eugene, I could probably get myself a Pulitzer or something. But what I could do is offer to you a couple perspectives about this. And when I'm talking to my colleagues and the things that we're thinking about in this fall semester, as we step back, we're thinking about how the safety net has been strained right now. We saw this.
So, as a result of that, are there ways that technology can help that? We saw the rise, whether it be in the hiring space or others, virtual counseling services, virtual mental health. That, I think, is something that we would not have ever thought about. In fact, we had many folks within our organizations who rejected the premise that these things could be done virtually. I had to sit across from you in my office to do that. The reality is that's not the case now. I can advise; I can counsel; I can help connect you in ways--so, that's very important.
I have to acknowledge, then, the environment in which we're working in, as well. You know, oftentimes, we focus on the pandemic of COVID-19 that was taking place in our country for the last 18 months or so, but we also have to recognize we had a similar pandemic right parallel with it, the pandemic around race in this country. And talking about what's happening in communities and how families and communities are grappling with racial reconciliation and has to happen right now. You cannot see the continued abuse regardless of what community you live in, of folks of color and others as well, without figuring out how you grapple with that.
And oftentimes, higher education, as these anchor institutions, was a place where we brought the--we provided the public square for folks who come in and debate these types of issues and to talk about them and theorize about them and just be heard about their experience. So, given that, how do we do that also using technology? And we saw that in my own college, where we were very deliberate in using a Zoom platform or other platforms to bring hundreds of people together to talk about that, to educate, to use breakout groups and all of those different things to do that, because you cannot begin to address the problems if you don't talk about them, if you talk about the lived experiences of the folks who are living within them.
And I think the other thing that we have--I think can be very important for us is to acknowledge that, yes, while the pandemic forced us to rapidly accelerate our work around professional development and other technology enhancements and the learning space, we recognize that there are students who did not thrive in this. There was learning stagnation or learning loss. How do we begin to, as a sector, reckon with that and really sit down and think about what happens in our classrooms, what happens in our spaces where students come to for support, and be very direct about how we're going to name that.
At my own college, Montgomery has been very deliberate with our board of talking about antiracist policies and practices. How do we as an organization think deeply about the work of making sure that every student has not only the ability but the right to thrive within our organization? If we do that, let's have a very honest conversation. That means we have to have substantive changes in the way students come into our organizations, how they navigate and way find. You know, my chief academic officer says the number one equity conversation, at least the first equity conversation that an organization has to have is around--is placement testing, because we know certain things happen as a result of testing. We need to be very deliberate about how we dismantle that as an organization.
So, Eugene, I think that there are both very pragmatic things organizations are going to be thinking about in terms of how they deliver their mission, but I think also this moment is going to around issues of equity, the digital divide. All of those factors are also going to be mission types of conversations we have to have, and organizations that are boundary-spanning, that move beyond just this very elementary understanding of the work that they do are going to be the organizations that thrive and have the most successful, I believe, impact on the students and communities that we serve.
MR. SCOTT: Well, another popular conversation related to equity, specifically racial equity, as you know, is the cost of higher education, that we know that Black students in the U.S. hold substantially more debt than their White counterparts by age 25. And some lawmakers, as a result, want to cancel all or most student debt; quite a few lawmakers do not.
Do you think doing that, cancelling student debt, at least some of it, would promote more racial and economic equity?
DR. POLLARD: Yeah, and this is why I loved your question earlier when you were talking with Professor Darling is to really understand--and it's to understand the historic and systematic nature of how racism and white supremacy has affected this country.
And if we go back and look at historical understandings about that, then we are better able to step into this conversation. And what we know is that the income and the generational wealth that has been lost in Black and brown communities as a result of systemic racism is one, indeed, that we must pay attention to. So, if we want to have conversations about students, why do students take out, in large parts, significant amounts of student loan? It is because they do not have family--come from families that have the ability to make investments in their education from savings. These are oftentimes students, as well, who are trying to work and go to school at the same time.
And yes, there are going to be some who will say, yes, this student took out thousands of dollars of debt and they did not use that for school and they used it for other things. I think those are outliers and misnomers that are, you know, red herrings to distract us from the conversation that really needs to be had. We know that many students take out high numbers of student debt because they want their families to have--their future to have their version of the American dream. And the reality about this is that student debt is--it is crippling a generation.
You talked about Millennials; you talk about Gen-Xers. I have friends of mine who know they will be paying student debt until the day they retire, because they--but it changed their life, it changed their family's life. But the reality about this is that it also impacts every other part of their life, their ability to own-home, their ability to have certain jobs, their ability to navigate a future for themselves and also their own children.
So, for me, the conversation is that, if you want to have a conversation about abating or somehow reducing loan and loan forgiveness--student loans for students who carry significant amounts of debt. The conversation cannot be absent from how do we get into this situation in the first place. And that, to me, is the greater part of the conversation that needs to occur. Personally, I believe that if we can create upward mobility for students and their families by helping them have their access to the economic pipelines that move this country forward, I think we're all better served. And that's the part--we keep thinking about education as an individual right, an individual benefit. Here's the dirty secret, Eugene--it's not even a dirty secret, it's the truth--it's that it benefits all of us, if we choose to live in--
MR. SCOTT: Society [audio distortion]--
DR. POLLARD: --an educated society, exactly.
MR. SCOTT: That's so, so much to think about, and I think we, here at Post Live, would love to have you back to expand upon these conversations and to keep our listeners informed on the topics that matter most to you, as you move forward to the other side of the country. Thank you so much, Dr. Pollard, for coming out.
DR. POLLARD: Thank you so much. It was a delight to be here, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
MR. SCOTT: Indeed, indeed. Unfortunately, we are out of time for this segment, but we want you to come back. Join Washington Post Live at 2:30 p.m. today, my colleague, Jackie Alemany will interview Senator Michael Bennet. I'm Eugene Scott. As always, thank you for watching.
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