When Grace Harkins ‘21 applied for a St. Lawrence University Fellowship in February, she expected to spend her summer on campus, investigating the social injustices prevalent in our education system, and more specifically, the pervasiveness of norms that cause both students and educators to feel powerless when it comes to creating change.
“These norms are so ingrained into our systems,” she says. “We need to recognize them. We need to give them language and the place to be acknowledged and changed, because we do have the power to make change and the power to make a better education system.”
Today, Grace—a government major and Spanish and religious studies double minor—is working from her home in Kansas City, Missouri. COVID-19 forced a change in plans, but it hasn’t diminished the quality of her research or her passion for her topic. Grace’s essay “Will COVID-19 Finally Change Our Sexist Undervaluing of Educators?” was published by the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem that aims to amplify the voices of women and girls in media. As the title of her essay suggests, the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic has made her research more important than ever as it provides a context in which to explore norms as they’re undermined and altered in real time.
“It has really brought to light the inequalities in our education system, especially because so many parents have to step into the role of educators” Grace says. “Particularly during a time of crisis, you see inequalities on a broader scale—they’re so in-your-face. The same inequalities are usually the first to be pushed aside when you have to focus on something that seems bigger at the moment.”
Throughout the summer, Grace has worked closely with Professor of Education and Department Chair Jeff Frank. She says she’s grateful to have him on her side, helping her navigate some of the challenges of remote learning, but also helping her think critically about how to learn from this moment.