06.04.20

Senator Murray Urges Careful Preparation Before Colleges Reopen and Stresses Need to Address Inequities for Students Hit Hardest by the COVID-19 Crisis

At HELP Committee hearing, Senator Murray pressed higher education leaders to ensure that in their COVID-19 response, institutions put public health first and address disproportionate impacts of the virus on Black students and staff and other communities of color

 

Senator Murray: “We must recognize and address the disproportionate impact this crisis is having on… students of color, first-generation college students, students experiencing homelessness, and student parents—and we must let public health and science drive decision making.

 

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S FULL OPENING REMARKS HERE***

 

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S QUESTIONING HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stressed the need for all colleges and universities to prepare detailed plans to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff prior to reopening, while addressing the unique needs of the students whose health and educations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

 

In remarks at a HELP Committee hearing, Senator Murray highlighted how abrupt closures and transitions to online learning due to the coronavirus crisis have affected students of color, first-generation college students, student parents, students experiencing homelessness, and others and urged higher education leaders to address these disparities in their plans for the coming school year.

 

“As we look at the dramatic impact COVID-19 is having on institutions of higher education and discuss ways to keep students, faculty, and staff safe, we absolutely have to address the unique impact this virus has on Black students and other students of color... We have already seen that communities of color, tribes, and other vulnerable populations face some of the harshest impacts from this pandemic. It is our job to ensure that the students who have been, and will continue to be, disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, don’t see their education suffer or fall behind,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks.

 

Senator Murray also stressed the need for the federal government to step up and provide much-needed support and guidance to colleges and universities, including in-depth, actionable and detailed guidance and standards from federal health and labor agencies, and actual support from the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

 

“Our students, faculty, staff and college communities need to know that before colleges reopen their doors, they’ve planned for, every potential outcome, every contributing factor, and every scenario. But colleges and universities can’t do this alone,” continued Senator Murray.

 

During questioning, Senator Murray pressed witnesses Dr. Christina Paxson, President of Brown University, Mr. Mitchell Daniels, President of Purdue University, and Dr. Logan Hampton, President of Lane College, about their plans to address health disparities and get students and staff of color the support they need and deserve.

 

In her remarks, and in her questions to witness Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, Senator Murray also stressed the need for testing and contact tracing to keep students, employees, and communities safe and that current levels are inadequate for safe, widespread reopening.

 

Senator Murray’s full remarks are below.

 

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and as always, thank you to our Committee staff who worked so hard to make it possible for this hearing to be safe and socially distant.”

 

“Before we begin, I just want to say that as we see people around the country—especially young people—protesting for long overdue change, we must remember the opportunity institutions of higher education have to help address disparities and systemic racism—and their responsibility to do so.

 

“And that means as we look at the dramatic impact COVID-19 is having on institutions of higher education and discuss ways to keep students, faculty and staff safe, we absolutely have to address the unique impact this virus has on Black students and other students of color.

 

“We have already seen that communities of color, tribes, and other vulnerable populations face some of the harshest impacts from this pandemic.

 

It is our job to ensure that the students who have been, and will continue to be, disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, don’t see their education suffer or fall behind.

 

“So with that I mind, today we must recognize and address the disproportionate impact this crisis is having on those who were already facing challenges—students of color, first-generation college students, students experiencing homelessness, and student parents—and we must let public health and science drive decision making.

 

“The coronavirus crisis has deeply affected every single aspect of our higher education system—and it will have profound impacts on students and colleges for many years to come.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced institutions of higher education to grapple with unprecedented challenges from widespread closures, to rapid transitions to online education, to unprecedented student financial need and unemployment, and sharp revenue losses and looming budget cuts.

 

“Many may not be able to reopen their doors, including many historic and under-resourced colleges that serve high populations of students who have low incomes and students of color.

 

“Faculty and staff—from professors and adjunct instructors, to administrative and support staff, to custodial workers and food servers, and much more—are wondering if they’ll have jobs to return to in the fall.

 

“And for students across this country—from graduating high school seniors, to community college students, to students pursing advanced degrees and more—this pandemic has completely shattered their notions of a ‘normal’ school year—as they are forced to navigate this new world.

 

“Every single student across this country is experiencing unprecedented disruption. And many students will need additional support, like advising, tutoring, and mental health counseling to succeed in the new learning environment.

 

“But not every student is experiencing equal disruption.

 

“The pandemic has hit certain communities, particularly communities of color, significantly harder than others. And these disparities hold true for higher education, where certain student populations are bearing a heavier burden of the crisis than others.

 

“Before the pandemic started, students of color, students who are parents, first-generation students, LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, and veteran students were already far more likely to struggle to meet basic needs like food, housing, health care, and child care.

 

“But with on-campus resources widely closed, this pandemic has exacerbated existing problems for many of these students.

 

“Millions of students who rely on dorms and college-managed apartment buildings—have been forced ‘home.’ But for many students—like students experiencing homelessness, former foster youth, students with unsafe homes, and international students unable to return to their home countries—‘going home’ is not an option.

 

“For many students without access to a computer or the internet, or a safe or quiet place to study, online learning isn’t an option.

 

“And with many on-campus and community child care providers closed, the one in five college students who are parents have even fewer options for child care.

 

“As we move toward solving the truly countless challenges facing our colleges and students, we absolutely have to keep in mind and address the unique needs of the students who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 as colleges begin to reopen safely—physically or online. 

 

“We need to ensure that colleges do not rush into a decision on how to reopen without thorough consultation with public health officials.

 

“There is a very real possibility—as Dr. Fauci said the other week—of a resurgence of coronavirus. That is why colleges and universities need a detailed plan for how to keep the campus community safe, regardless of how the pandemic evolves in the coming months.

 

“Our students, faculty, staff and college communities need to know that before colleges  reopen their doors, they’ve planned for every potential outcome, every contributing factor, and every scenario.

 

“But colleges and universities can’t do this alone.

 

“They need in-depth, actionable and detailed guidance from the federal government on best practices when it comes to: how to house and feed students safely; how to minimize class size and keep students socially distant; how to ensure library books and other shared equipment are cleaned properly and often.

 

“And when it comes to the broader community: how to keep faculty and staff members of the larger community safe; and how to minimize risk when students travel to and from campus.

 

“These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered before schools can open safely. Doing so requires a complex planning process that we absolutely cannot get wrong.

 

“Colleges and universities need actual support from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who instead of working with the higher education community on how to reopen safely, is forcing colleges and universities to implement a new harmful, ideological Title IX regulation during a pandemic that will ensure one thing—that students, already worried about the pandemic, are now going to be more unsafe next school year when it comes to sexual assault and harassment.

 

“So while I’m glad we have the opportunity to hear from the witnesses today, this Committee, and the American people, deserve to hear directly from Secretary DeVos on how she’s working with the higher education community, as well as Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia on how we can safely protect workers from the virus, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on how the administration is responding to this health crisis.

 

“Today, we need to not only address the immediate needs of colleges and students, but we need to begin to plan what the future of higher education will look like in the wake of the coronavirus.

 

“These truly unprecedented times require bold, responsive leadership—but right now, colleges and universities are not getting what they need from the federal government.

 

“And while I’m fighting to secure additional funding and address the ongoing needs of colleges and students across the country, I will continue to push this Administration to not only implement the law as intended by Congress but to step up and provide the leadership and guidance our faculty, staff and students desperately need.

 

“Thank you Mr. Chairman.”

 

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