New Data from Boston Public Schools Demonstrates How BUSPH Learn from Anywhere Approach is a Racist Policy

In this commentary, I want to explain the two major reasons why the LfA (Learn from Anywhere) approach being implemented at the Boston University School of Public Health is a racist policy that has no place in a school of public health. I show why it violates the principle of social justice that is supposedly one of the School's top priorities.

In the LfA approach, students may choose whether they want to attend a class in-person or remotely. This is also called a hybrid approach because there are some students in the classroom and some students who are remote.

1. This educational approach systematically conveys benefits to the most privileged and denies them to the most vulnerable, who are disproportionately students of color.

The School has tried to justify the LfA approach by arguing that it is designed to give students a choice based on their educational preferences: that is, students can choose based on how they learn best. However, the truth is that the primary deciding factor is not the method of teaching, but instead, the level of vulnerability of the student to COVID-19 infection, including their level of anxiety about the magnitude of the risk.

Students who have pre-existing conditions that put them at increased risk, who rely more upon public transportation to get to campus, who live with susceptible family members or are caretakers for such persons, and who cannot afford the expenses of moving back and forth across the country are substantially less likely to be able to attend classes in-person. Every single one of these "vulnerability" or "risk" factors is more prevalent among students of color. Thus, while the LfA approach purports to be separating students based on their "preferences," it is actually separating students based on their "vulnerability" (or conversely, their "privilege"). 

This meets the definition of a racist policy. It benefits the privileged at the expense of the vulnerable. It benefits white students over students of color.

A survey released today by the Boston Public School system provides data that supports this argument. The school system conducted a survey to ascertain whether families would prefer their children to attend school remotely or in-person this fall. The survey found that Black students were twice as likely to need to attend school remotely as White students. Thus, if the public schools do adopt a hybrid approach, Black students will be twice as likely to be deprived of the advantages of in-school education. 

The level of racial discrimination at the School of Public Health is likely to be even greater than this because one factor playing at the school level - the disproportionate lack of internet access among Black families - is not a substantial issue among our graduate students.

2. Bringing students onto campus places a disproportionate burden of risk on communities of color.

By bringing students onto campus up to four times a week to sit in classrooms for three hours, there is certainly a risk of contributing toward a possible surge in cases later this fall. If that surge occurs, we know it will disproportionately affect communities of color, including our immediate neighbors who live near the School of Public Health. We are imposing this risk without the consent of those communities. Even worse, we are imposing that risk with the active dissent of those communities. The city counselor who represents our neighboring communities pleaded with the university not to hold in-person classes but her concerns were ignored.

3. Holding in-person classes puts a disproportionate level of risk on staff members of color.

The maintenance staff which must clean and disinfect the classrooms, a time-consuming process that presents potential exposure, is disproportionately comprised of employees of color. 

In summary, the benefits of the LfA approach accrue disproportionately to students of privilege, while they come at the expense of risks that accrue disproportionately to people and communities of color. This is not a policy that promotes racial and social justice, and it therefore sacrifices one of the stated principles of the School of Public Health.

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