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Some words for students, their families and others who care about them:

Since the coronavirus arrived, the world is learning a lot about Generation Z, the first college class in history during the time of virtual classes, commencements, celebrations and campus tours.

Members of your generation and those who care about you are among  those experiencing insidious displays of racism and hate, including  “Zoom bombing” and, more recently, brutal images, like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia and George Floyd of Minnesota.

Here at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, we can only imagine how you are coping with the latest events without support services on campuses.

“How are you doing?” I ask Tory from Detroit.

“I am not OK,” Tory tells me.

Neither is our Student Government Association president, Jordan, from Spartanburg, South Carolina, who tells me about watching most of the men he grew up around hiding their emotions and refraining from expressing them.

“Just as the coronavirus separated all of you from your respective campuses, it has separated campuses from their beloved students.”

How are you coping? 

Are you the student who says, “I am not OK” with how frequent another story of harm and blatant injustice toward human beings who happen to be black and brown appears in the news cycle — and nothing changes?

Just as the coronavirus separated all of you from your respective campuses, it has separated campuses from their beloved students. At Benedict, we’ve had time to recognize the vitality you bring to our campuses as students, and to think about just how much we miss you. Your absence has forced us to consider how we can serve you better.

Now is the time for you to hold us accountable.

Higher-education leaders must understand and address issues of food insecurity, access to proper academic support, mental health care, personal health, safety and wellness. We must recognize the vast inequities in home environments for students from diverse backgrounds. Those of us working at black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and community colleges know that you need us to reopen.

For students who need our campus — to escape a community filled with violence and enter one filled instead with support — we must reopen.

For institutional leaders who serve large populations of students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom tuition costs and financial aid have always been critical factors in initial enrollment and retention through to graduation, our communities need us to reopen.

Related: In dark days of coronavirus, a little kindness can restore students’ faith

For our students looking to escape abuse, we must reopen. For our students who count on us to provide a meal three times per week and twice on weekends, we must reopen. For our students who see themselves in Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and for those who need to process the impact of watching people who look like them being brutally and senselessly murdered at the hands of police, we must reopen.

We owe it to you. We must provide the safe haven you need to heal. In the meantime, we are reaching out via text messages, phone calls and video chats to help you cope with the ongoing trauma, pain and grief associated with these racial incidents. 

We know that our campus provides a safe haven for students who need us. And we need you. Without you, the students, there is no campus to reopen.

We were heartbroken when we had to make the tough but necessary decision to ask you to leave our campuses. We know that many of you are living in unsafe situations without the safety of our campus and our open office doors to escape to.

Please know that we will reopen as soon as we possibly can, and we will be better than before. We will move forward responsibly, keeping health and safety our first priority. We must reopen, and we will reopen.

We miss you.

With love,
Emmanuel Lalande, Ed.D.
Vice President, Benedict College

This story about protests against racial injustice, U.S. higher education and students who are not OK was produced was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter.

Emmanuel Lalande is Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Services at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.

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