Intersection Between Soical Justice Issues and COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the social injustices that exist in our systems and institutions. A national crisis like this tests the strength and resilience of our society’s systems, infrastructure, and leaders, but also exposes their weaknesses. During this pandemic, vulnerable populations are facing the compounding systemic effects of social injustice that continue to be embedded in our society’s structures, combined with a biased national and statewide response. The COVID-19 crisis is a teachable moment for the United States, highlighting the social injustices that exists in systems (from healthcare to education and beyond) and demanding that we do better in providing equitable and just circumstances for all the members of our communities.

Many states and cities in the United States have noticed an unequal racial distribution of COVID-19 cases and deaths1. Specifically, African Americans have experienced greater threat from COVID-19 relative to the total population in many locations across the United States2. This trend has largely been attributed to pre-existing social injustice in our nation’s health care system1. Race and income are often linked to a lack of access to health insurance and medical care, as lower income jobs tend not to offer health insurance1. Often health services in racially diverse and low-income communities have less access to resources1. To make matters worse, economic, food access and environmental justice disparities experienced by minoritized communities combined with discrimination in the healthcare system leads to an increase in chronic diseases. COVID-19 symptoms are more severe for people with pre-existing chromic disease like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and heart disease2. As a result, we see now how some groups of people, including African Americans, are experiencing more severe effects from COVID-19 because of the circumstances created by socially unjust healthcare, economic, governance/planning, and food access systems.

Race and income have also affected the rates in which people encounter the disease. Social isolation is considered the strongest preventative measure of slowing the virus. Many jobs have transitioned to an online format, but those whose jobs are considered essential, including grocery store and public transit workers, are still at high risk of contracting the disease1. Recent data has revealed that, especially in urban locations, African Americans make up a large percentage of those employed in essential jobs putting African Americans more at risk of contracting COVID-191.

The U.S. has also been criticized for not taking social justice issues into consideration in its response to and evaluation of the COVID-19 crisis. While many counties and states themselves are tracking the demographic trends of the virus’s infection, the CDC was critiqued for not publishing data on the racial differences of COVID-19 cases in the United States1. Data on the racial and socio-economic trends of COVID-19 cases can be used to evaluate which groups are most vulnerable, distribute resources and aid, and improve strategies. Without collecting data and acknowledging how different groups are being affected, the nation cannot improve its response. The COVID-19 response has also been criticized for being impacted by pre-existing gender biases3. Many are being negatively affected by the decision to make sexual and reproductive health services a “non-essential,” business, even though they provide critical aid to girls and women3.

Beyond the immediate impacts of the disease, existing systemic inequities in education institutions are also being bared to the world. As software companies offer free services to schools that are switching to virtual learning, how to students without access to internet or devices at home take advantage of these new modes of learning? The digital divide impacts black, Latinx and low-income families the most, so how do we prevent this sudden switch to virtual learning from exacerbating existing inequities in schooling4.

For those that have not lost their jobs and who hold relative privilege in normal times, and in this time of crisis, it is important to take action. In Pittsburgh, here are some ways you can help bridge systemic inequities right now:

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging and trying time for the United States of America. As we all try to move forward and make the best of a universally challenging situation we look to our friends, families, and communities for strength. But, the lessons of this experience should not be forgotten. This experience reveals how much work we still have to do to fix broken systems and gives us the opportunity to create a more sustainable, resilient and fairer world moving forward. Looking for ways to be an advocate while stuck at home? Focus your reading list to learn more about systemic change and inequality and then talk to leaders of institutions within your personal spheres of influence.

If you are aware of additional opportunities to help through donations, advocacy or service, please email them to and we will add them to the above list.



  1. Evelyn, K. (2020, April 8). “It’s a racial justice issue”: Black Americans are dying in greater numbers from Covid-19. The Guardian.
  2. Aubrey, A., & Neel, J. (2020, April 8). Cdc hospital data point to racial disparity in covid-19 cases. NPR.Org. updates/2020/04/08/830030932/cdc-hospital-data-point-to-racial-disparity-in- covid-19-cases
  3. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. (2020, April 10). Centring sexual and reproductive health and justice in the global COVID-19 response.
  4. Fishbane, L. and Tomer, A. (2020, March 20). As classes move online during COVID-19, what are disconnected students to do? Brookings.

Why Project Based Learning and Sustainability are the Perfect Pair

When we talk about sustainability, we are really talking about transforming communities. When we are dealing with the big, wicked problems listed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (No Poverty, Gender Equality, and Climate Action, just to name a few) we need all hands on deck. Then why does our schooling system effectively separate K-12 youth from their communities and our democracy for the first 18 years of our lives? Why don’t we have a global call to focus 100% of school time on learning about and solving community problems? And it’s not just schools that contribute to this exclusion of young budding activists. Many community based organizations have minimum age limits for membership or participation. If a 12-year-old is really passionate about affordable housing and ending gentrification in your community, why should you not let that passionate and conscientious digital native run your social media campaign to help get folks out to community meetings?

Have I convinced you that we should use the school day to transform our communities? Here at Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus K-12 Programs, we believe that Project Based Learning (PBL) is the pedagogy that allows for this transformational work in the classroom most effectively. According to a summary of existing PBL research, collected by the Buck Institute, PBL brings the following benefits to schools:

  • Deeper understanding of content and improved retention
  • Improved performance on standardized tests
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Improved collaboration and conflict resolution skills
  • Increased student engagement and attendance
  • Increased job satisfaction for teachers

On top of these, PBL also allows students to drive their own learning, builds relationships between the school and the community, and is a perfect tool for practicing culturally sustaining teaching and working to close the opportunity gap.

Digging deeper into the seven essential elements of “Gold Standard PBL,” we can see how this pedagogy works so well with the concept of sustainability. Authentic, challenging, place-based problems are brought to the table. Student voice and choice determines where the project goes, while sustained inquiry, reflection and critique and revision guide the solutions and deliverables presented to be high-quality. Presenting solutions in front of a public audience of community members and stakeholders that care about the problem make student work meaningful, and show adults in the community that youth can contribute to some of the biggest problems we face.

Gold Standard PBL design elements from the Buck Institute

Feeling energized to try integrating sustainability with PBL to bring your practice to the next level? Join us for a “PBL Through the Lens of Sustainability” Workshop, join a community of educators committed to this work on Facebook (where you can also find sample units), or see some student-presented results of PBL at the annual Seeds of Change Conference. Already doing PBL in your classroom but focused on simulations or design challenges that don’t actually create products that are authentically useful outside the classroom context? Not all PBL is high quality and not all PBL contributes to community change efforts. We hope the network of peers that comes together at Eden Hall can help you get there.



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