Coronavirus and the Forced Transition to Fully Online Learning: Advantages and Psychosocial Challenges for Graduate Students at HBCUs

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session HBCU

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Brief Abstract

The Coronavirus affected the closing of college campuses to safeguard its faculty, staff and students. Transitioning to fully online courses became the solution to a gripping challenge. This presentation will explore how graduate students at HBCUs experienced this transition as its “new normal” and psychosocial issues.


Dr. Sheila Witherspoon is an Associate Professor in Counselor Education at South Carolina State University in the Department of Human Services. Dr. Witherspoon received her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision from the University of South Carolina; and her Master of Education and Bachelor of Arts degree from South Carolina State University. She is currently a student in the M.S. Ed. in Instructional Design, with a concentration in Online Learning at Capella University, and has been an online doctoral educator for over 10 years in the areas of counseling, psychology, human services and organizational psychology. Her expertise in higher education in both academic (masters and doctoral) and college student affairs (admissions counselor and recruiter and academic advising) as well as K-12 education (school counseling) spans over 25 years. The qualitative action researcher studies culturally responsive instructional design in online learning - particularly in courses designed to enhance cultural competence through the examination of microaggressions and cultural humility in counseling relationships; and the impact of school climate on school counselor advocacy. She gives back to her community by participating in counseling, education, and civic organizations such as the American Counseling Association, Black Doctoral Network, Inc., Southern Regional Education Board, Association of Counselor Educators and Supervisors, Palmetto State School Counseling Association (South Carolina) New Brunswick Education Foundation (NJ) and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Extended Abstract

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) affected colleges and universities in a way no one anticipated.  The implementation of social distancing as a safeguard measure systematically closed college campuses.  While the hope that closure would be as temporary, the gravity of the pandemic informed that the probability of return could extend to the Fall 2021 semester.  Thus, the uncertainty of instruction was readily rectified by providing online instruction.  Yet, many graduate students were underprepared for being a fully online learner.  Exposed were issues such as lack of technological equipment (i.e. laptop, desktop, printer, etc.) being available at home.  Moreover, having to supplant technology for a child or children, and accessing or maintaining internet access became a real concern: financially.  Too, graduate students who are parents with school aged children, becoming instant homeschool teachers had the capacity to become an added stressor, particularly if fully employed and required to work at home.  Coupled with instant job loss of one or two spouses or partners, or a family member in a household, prioritizing income generation may place graduate education on the backburner.  Though all graduate students at HBCUs are not African American, the majority are.  Essentially, this transition to the “new normal” will bring with its psychosocial issues unique to African American graduates students attending HBCUs during a pandemic, where social distancing has disrupted their way of living, being, working, and studying in a virtual and remote world.