Unless we act fast, some students are going to become a new set of pandemic victims.
Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been holding a weekly virtual game night for the students in my research group at the City University of New York. Last Tuesday, we played The Voting Game. The premise is that players vote on which member of the group is best described by a character-revealing question, such as, “Who regularly orders delivery from less than five blocks away?” The class voted to award three extraordinarily different superlatives to a student named Beatrice: top dancer, most likely to rescue a drowning child, and best future lawyer. I once told Beatrice that when she becomes the first Latina senator from New York, she’ll have to buy me lunch. She laughed, but I often see things in my students that they don’t see in themselves.
These days, I see a lot more than I usually do. Moving classes onto Zoom has opened a window into my students’ lives and homes that is normally closed. Beatrice, who asked me to use that pseudonym to protect her privacy, lives with seven family members in a two-bedroom apartment. One night, she showed us the toddler bed that she shares with her 17-year-old sister. When she speaks, one often hears her siblings shouting in the background. Her mother, who has taken over as the principal breadwinner since her father was laid off as a subcontractor, telemarkets mobile phone plans from the kitchen table. She says it’s almost impossible to study at home. Beatrice is the most optimistic student I’ve ever taught, but she’s on the verge of despair.
Evan Mandery, is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is also the author of A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America.