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Researchers Study Impact of Coronavirus on Latinx Communities

Montclair State receives grant to advance research on health disparities, community structures and educational processes

Posted in: College News and Events

Photo of student working from phone
hen classes moved online, Diana Ortiz logged onto classes with her phone from the home she shares with her parents.

Last spring, as the coronavirus crisis deepened, Diana Ortiz, a Communication and Media Arts major, was juggling classes and her job on a trauma floor at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

The pandemic was always on her mind, she recalled, whether at work or at home, and she worried about infecting her parents. At the time, sharing her experiences at the hospital, she said, “You don’t know what you’re walking into. Talking to nurses, and seeing their eyes, there is a lot of anxiety.” As for finishing the semester online, “Half the time, I’m in a daze,” she said. “My mind just isn’t there.”

Her worries were similar to many Latinx students who struggled as the health concerns and economic fallout of COVID-19 hit their families and communities hard. “It was definitely a lot to endure,” Ortiz says.

The long-term impact of the coronavirus on Latinx communities is now the focus of an upcoming research conference that Montclair State, as a leading Hispanic-Serving Institution, is hosting for social and behavioral researchers in the tri-state region, says Katia Paz Goldfarb, assistant vice president for Hispanic Serving Initiatives.

The University recently received a $82,329 grant from the National Science Foundation to invite scholars from about 30 four-year Hispanic-Serving Institutions to advance their scientific understanding of the impact of the pandemic in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut Latinx communities and share that with policymakers and community leaders.

The Build and Broaden Conference will spotlight Latinx experiences accessing health care, the pandemic’s toll on community structures and educational processes transforming Latinx communities, says Paz Goldfarb, who is collaborating with a Montclair State team to advance the research.

“The project’s focus and research questions, and having Montclair State in the middle of that, provides the opportunity for the University to continue to be the center of where things happen, where knowledge gets produced, and where it gets disseminated and talked about,” Paz Goldfarb says.

Official statistics show Latinos are disportionately affected by coronavirus. As the tri-state area was among the first and hardest hit, “the long-term impacts should be more visible here,” says Elizabeth Rivera Rodas, an assistant professor within the College of Education and Human Services, who is directing the grant along with Paz Goldfarb and Stephen Ruszczyk, assistant professor of Sociology. Other team members include Educational Foundations Professor Jaime Grinberg, Teaching and Learning Professor David Schwarzer, and Associate Graduate School Dean Nelly Lejter.

As part of the University’s observance of Hispanic Heritage Month, preliminary findings were presented by Assistant Psychology Professor Jazmin Reyes-Portillo and Psychology Professor Carrie Masia on understanding the academic, financial and mental health impacts of COVID-19 on Latinx students. Reyes-Portillo and Masia are interested in expanding on their current work and reporting the results of 5,000 students in New Jersey and New York.

Ortiz, a senior set to graduate in May, says she is grateful her family has remained healthy, and academically, she finished the spring semester better than she expected. This fall, she is focused on separating the different aspects of her life. “Work is work. School is school,” she said. “That’s where I stand now, getting used to the change.”

Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren