It's a shit show, and it's fine: The practice of symbolic nonviolence in higher education in 2020

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The purpose of this study is to understand the ways in which COVID-19 created or exposed inequities among faculty and students in the context of higher education in 2020. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty-two faculty who taught during the Fall 2020 semester. Data was analyzed using a post-qualitative method of plugging theory into data. The term symbolic nonviolence was developed to describe the practice of healing inequities exacerbated or revealed by COVID-19 in the higher education classroom. Findings suggest that faculty and students of low socioeconomic status were similarly affected by the pandemic. Inequities experienced by students during the pandemic in the U.S. were caused by the interaction of COVID, identity, and participation in higher education classes. Immediate effects of such inequities were low grades, plagiarism, or disappearing from class. Faculty supported students by practicing three types of symbolic nonviolence: non-academic support, academic adjustments, and disciplinary superpowers. These symbolic nonviolence practices increased communication and social support for students, provided services that institutions were unable to provide, identified and remediated students who were suffering academically, adjusted academic expectations to be more suitable to pandemic learning, and taught students how to transform the world around them using tools unique to their academic disciplines. Although providing additional student support increased suffering for faculty, these symbolic nonviolence practices have the potential to change academic norms beyond COVID pandemic times.

Symbolic violence, Symbolic nonviolence, Symbolic non-violence, COVID, Teaching, Higher education, Thinking with theory