Twin pandemics: COVID, racism


To the editor:

I am in my 25th year as a professor of counselor education — school and clinical mental health counseling — at CUNY’s Lehman College. It’s also the end of my first year as a 10471 resident.

A phrase I use in recruiting students at Lehman has been “the Bronx deserves the best.” I’m thrilled to finally get the chance to live near where I work and to follow that mantra at home as well.

I’m disheartened by twin pandemics of racism and COVID, however — one that has continued for centuries, and one that is entering its fourth year. Where I live, it’s 1-in-120 dead from COVID, while it’s 1-in-187 dead from COVID in the ZIP code where I work.

We have watched leaders tear away COVID funding, mask mandates, free testing, free N95s/masking, and who is most vulnerable? Poor and working class people of color, children and elders, folks with disabilities, queer and trans folks, who comprise a majority of the Bronx. Instead, we’ve watched leaders fund endless war, more cops, and more prisons.

We don’t need more war, cops, or prisons. We need more school counselors — especially at the elementary level (not required in New York state, but in many other states), and we need more licensed clinical mental health counselors, who finally will receive Medicare payments nationwide, and diagnose and treat on par with licensed clinical social workers and psychologists as New York finally joined the other 49 states in allowing this.

Our graduate programs both have a strong focus on anti-racism and other forms of oppression to combat the other pandemic. We are hybrid, synchronous and looking to take our programs online to protect our students from COVID.

The pandemics are not going away, and we need to adapt to ensure we reduce the spread and infection/reinfections.

But we need better funding for public schools and mental health. Too much money goes to prisons and police — $11 billion in New York City alone is more than most country’s entire military budget — that needs to be redirected to public schools and mental health in the Bronx and citywide.

When the City Council voted last year’s budget, they cut funding by a half-billion dollars for public schools. We lost so many educators, arts and school counseling positions at a time we need them more than ever in the face of twin pandemics.

Racist austerity budgeting is ridiculous in the country’s wealthiest city.

I’ve met with Councilman Eric Dinowitz’s staff and suggested they do a people’s budget process this year so that we can all see what items are in the budget and have the chance to give feedback before a vote. We need to restore those funds and increase funding for schools and mental health.

End the school-to-prison pipeline now.

Stuart Chen-Hayes

Stuart Chen-Hayes, pandemic, Covid, racisim, Eric Dinowitz