COVID-19 Inequities

Experts Share Social and Cultural Implications of COVID-19 Agnes Scott College Hosts First of Four Series on COVID-19 Inequities

The Agnes Scott College’s Gay Johnson McDougall Center for Global Diversity and Inclusion hosted its first of four webinars highlighting issues of inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you are familiar with Agnes Scott, then you know that every major integrates issues of social justice and global leadership, and addresses the challenges of our times. That’s who we are. Thus, it is no surprise that we would be leaders in talking about the social inequities and social justice aspects of this pandemic,” said Dr. Yves-Rose Porcena, vice president for equity and inclusion and the organizer of the series.

The first webinar, titled “A Conversation on the Social and Cultural Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” featured Regine O. Jackson, Kathy ’68 and Lawrence Ashe Associate Professor of Sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Agnes Scott, and undocumented artist, activist, and public speaker Yehimi Cambrón ’14. They underscored matters from the social and cultural consequences of the pandemic to stereotypes in the immigrant community.

Emphasizing social and cultural consequences of deep inequalities that have always existed in society before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson shared the importance of not seeing race as an interpretative framework for understanding this disease or any kind of outbreak.

“I really want us to focus on the social and cultural consequences of the deep inequalities that have always existed in our society prior to the coronavirus outbreak and how they are being exacerbated in this particular moment.”

Looking specifically at the number of African Americans impacted by cases and deaths from COVID-19 in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, Jackson emphasized that necessary data is still not readily available to understand the true impact COVID-19 has had on specific racial groups.

“All of this underscores what we’ve known from a critical historical perspective, even if we don’t have the data,” added Jackson. “If we look at history and social patterns, we know that preexisting vulnerabilities only get worse following a disaster.”

Using art and activism as a way to address issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambrón highlighted similar problems for immigrant and undocumented communities that have intensified due to the crisis. This includes lack of access to healthcare, paid sick leave, or layoffs — all issues Jackson also highlighted for people of color.

“My work is focused on reclaiming the immigrant narrative," said Cambrón. "I paint murals as monuments to celebrate the resilience and contributions of immigrants because we know that undocumented people are and have always been essential. Being 'officially' labeled this way falls short when undocumented people are still being treated as disposable by the government.”

Sharing personal memories of growing up with four siblings in one bedroom, Cambrón understands the myriad of challenges certain communities are facing to stay healthy. “In addition to the challenges we already face because of our immigration status, this pandemic has layered so much more uncertainty and fear on top of that.”

Cambrón is currently supporting local organizations in their efforts to provide relief for undocumented students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is also collaborating on a Living Walls “Sign of Solidarity,” in honor of the farmworkers that are sustaining the foundation of America’s food supply chain. "These grassroots efforts might be the only way for us to support systematically oppressed communities—including immigrants and asylum seekers in immigration detention centers," added Cambrón.

The webinar, moderated by Chan Spaulding ’20, chair of the Agnes Scott Coalition of Student Multicultural Organizations, had an open chat room where many of the students participating shared their own experiences. The President of the college, Leocadia I. Zak, opened the webinar by connecting it to the college’s core values and commitment to social justice.

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