COVID-19: Heightened Racial Disparities (with Dr. Aerika Loyd)

In this episode, students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy talk with psychology professor Aerika Loyd about how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected minority communities in the United States and laid bare the deep roots of systemic racism in America ranging from healthcare inequity to lack of access in education.

JULY 31, 2020

About Aerika Loyd:

Dr. Aerika Brittian Loyd is an interdisciplinary, community-engaged developmental scientist, who employs psychology, human development, and prevention science theories to understand how intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and identity inform health and development for youth and young adults of color (e.g., African American and Latinx). The ultimate goal of her research program is to provide recommendations for culturally informed youth practice, prevention, and policy.

Learn more about her work via


  • COVID-19: Heightened Racial Disparities (with Aerika Loyd)

    Introduction: Welcome to the official podcast of the University of California Riverside School of Public Policy. I'm your host, Maddie Bunting. For this podcast series, I will be talking with various voices in the public policy world about today's pressing societal issue. Join me to learn about potential solutions and interventions for today's biggest policy challenges. Be they about health, the economy, the environment, or other societal problems impacting families in your community or the international community. Joining me today is Dean’s Brand Ambassador, Arleth Flores Aparicio and Dr. Aerika Loyd. Dr. Loyd is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. The ultimate goal of her research program is to provide recommendations for culturally informed youth practice, prevention and policy. She is also the director of the UCR Youth and Development Lab. 

    Maddie Bunting: I'm currently in Los Angeles, a suburb, born and raised. And I know going to Riverside really shined the light on so many societal issues and problems that I just wasn't exposed to. And I think it's so important to learn about others and where they come from and what they've gone through and I think seeing the protests, you know, six weeks. So almost two months ago that police brutality, that justice system coded is showing what the health care, inequity, lack of access and education. It just seems like these minority communities have been hit over and over and over again. I just think it's so important to stay as aware as possible, especially as a white woman and person like I think it's my job to do that. And I I've seen on social media recently, you know, there has been less talk of Black Lives Matter or, or issues within those communities and trying to stay on top of it and not let it die down and really try and say, oh, that one donation, that's wonderful, but you need, you know, like monthly donations, annual donations. Don't forget about them, you know, a month later. So I just think it's so important to have these conversations and I'd love it if you could just talk a little bit of a synopsis of your exact research because it seems like you do a lot, especially for the youth community. Could you just give us a quick summary if you can, of your research and what you do. 

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah, really broadly, what much of my career has focused on is understanding thriving or factors that prohibit thriving in black and brown youth. And as an extension their families and communities. And so some of that has been linked to risk factors around being a member of a racial minority in the United States. So things like racial discrimination and how that affects mental health or poor coping, maladaptive coping. And some of that is also looked at more assets based things that promote thriving in these communities and these groups of youth that we can build into programs like mentoring programs or after-school programs. So things like positive identity and self-esteem. 

    Maddie Bunting: So the New York Times recently published an article stating Latino and African-American residents of the United States had been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, according to the new data. And Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people. This is disturbing and not okay. And I know your research works to understand how intersections of race, ethnicity, gender and identity, inform health and development for youth and young adults of color, such as black/African American, and Latinx/Hispanic communities. What are your thoughts when you hear statistics like fees? Are you surprised or are there many studies that reveal such racial inequities? 

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah, you know, when I saw the data coming out in the early days of the pandemic, especially around the health disparities. I was not surprised to see that it was disproportionately affecting black and brown communities. So we already know that data from the Centers for Disease Control show that there's significant disparities and health outcomes. For example, we know that black Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke and also die from those conditions at a younger age than their counterparts. So because these disparities already exist, they're really just heightened in the context of the pandemic where people are being exposed to the virus at a higher rate. So we already knew that these conditions existed around unemployment, poor economic conditions, generational poverty. So I think I wasn't surprised when the data came out and it was really disheartened to kind of see the reality. 

    Arleth Flores Aparicio: Especially within my community, I was telling my story where I went to the doctor's and my doctor in my clinic in my area was saying, you need to be really careful because our community, the Latinx communities, are being hit the most. And I think the question that I have is, in your research, how does COVID-19, right, kind of exacerbate the racial inequity already rooted in society? What have you seen? I mean, we've seen some of your publications and even the titles within some of the stuff that you have written is so inspiring. And I think COVID is kind of bringing the light to what you have researched. 

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah, yeah, it's really laying bare the effects of the social inequities that we already knew existed. And so what we see, the ways that black and brown communities are being disproportionately affected are, for example, youth may be living in homes where their parents are more likely to be essential workers and have to work outside of the home and not have access to tech jobs where they can stay inside and continue to work. And related to that, if they are in or if they're not able to continue working, then you have that added stress of economic conditions on the families and the families not getting paid. And now we're kind of exacerbating food insecurities that we already knew existed for black and brown communities disproportionately. Sometimes what we see, and we saw this in really dense populated areas like Los Angeles and New York. You see people kind of condensed and really tight spaces and not able to go live in another, to go to the rental house or to some other space, or to rent Airbnb. They really had to stay in the conditions that we already knew overcrowding existed. And so these were the types of conditions that exacerbate these health disparities. We also know that communities of color are disproportionately affected by underlying health conditions. And because those health conditions already exist, and we know that people who have underlying health conditions are more likely to die from Colvin 19 because they already potentially have weakened immune systems. Then we're seeing that disproportionate impact as well. What I also know is that we are seeing or in finding kind of in my own work, is I'm finding more people from black and brown communities having personal contact or being personally affected by COVID-19. So knowing someone in their family who has it or who's died from it, they are really experiencing it at a higher rate personally then I think other folks around the countr.

    Arleth Flores Aparicio: I came from a predominantly Latinx community and I think those programs really helped me. Avid, Upper-bound, just to name a few. But I also wanted to kind of bring up the education, right. Especially with youth. August is around the corner. Yeah. So there's maybe that talk about reopening. And I wanted to bring up this topic actually of the difference between online learning for the different communities. Especially how you were saying most parents are essential workers. Have you thought about that or do you have a perspective on it? 

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah, you know, that's been on my radar because I think about equities and social equity and how that can promote writing and youth particularly. So schooling has been on my radar quite a bit. So what we saw in the early days of the shutdown in the country, like in March, a lot of schools went into crisis mode where they automatically shut down. And, and I was worried because they transitioned to online. And so I was worried because there are a lot of students who don't have access to computers, they don't have access to the internet. And there were companies that were offering free, Wi-Fi, free Internet for those communities. But I knew that it wasn't going to last. And sometimes those are a bit of a trick because they'll provide free services for 30 days and then the family has to pay. So it's not really free. And so we already knew that their educational inequities, specifically for communities of color, particularly black and brown communities. We already knew that there were educational disparities in terms of access to quality education. We knew that schools were underfunded and so we see a lot of schools that didn't have computers to give out to students that didn't have computers. And so is that continuing into the fall? It's something that I've been thinking about a lot because we've moved from the crisis, the shut down and doing whatever we can to keep kids kind of moving along. This is kind of our new normal. I put that in quotations, you know, at least for the time being for health reasons. And one thing that I've seen that's concerning is that it's going to push a wedge in terms of the haves and the have-nots and who like, whose parents have money to hire private tutors and can do small homeschooling, and which young people don't have access to those resources and how many families have one computer for the entire family, or how many students are trying to complete their coursework over their cell phones. So it's it's not an easy answer. There's no easy solution. But I think one thing that I am concerned about is that there were already educational inequities and I think it's just going to push that even further, the divide even further. 

    Arleth Flores Aparicio: I know we just spoke, you know, how minority groups, including black/African American, and Latinx/Hispanic has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. And I kinda wanted to ask the question, in what ways do you believe COVID-19 is affecting the psychological and mental health of minority communities? 

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah. I think that's a really complex question. I'm glad you asked that question because, you know, mental health is always, I think the thing that we think about last. So we tend to focus a lot on, maybe not, on our physical health in terms of diet and exercise. And then the mental health part has, unfortunately, for the most part, been pushed into the margins. But we know it's really important in terms of also linking to physical health and other outcomes in human thriving, educational success. So some things that I've been thinking about in terms of mental health. There are really two things that are playing out right now. So I was going to redirect our conversation back to this conversation around the tail of the two pandemics that I'm hearing kind of being discussed. So Maddie asked about the racial injustice and all the stuff that happened with protests following George Floyd's murder. So the two pandemics that health researchers are talking about are COVID-19 in this global pandemic and racism as the second pandemic. And these are kind of interwoven together. And so I think there's multiple ways that it can affect young people's mental health. One, just being that it's created this really complex stressful context for young people. Not being able to engage in activities that normally they would do to support their mental health. Some of those activities have been taken away. So if they liked to hang out with their friends, you know, hanging out with their peers, engage in sports. Some of those mechanisms are strategies that we tend to think support mental health or, you know, as he said, after-school programs that are really positive for mental health haven't been available. And so in the context of all of this stress that's happening, those coping mechanisms haven't been available for young people. And the other part, I think specifically for youth of color, is the piece that's linked to more racial discrimination, more conversations about what they kind of knew, maybe they felt. But now it's being kind of laid bare for everyone to see. That can create a sense of hopelessness, that can create depression and anxiety. Anxiety related to the pandemic, but also anxiety related to these systemic injustices. And in a tangible way that mental health can be affected, is we know that particularly black and Latin next Communities for you, they tend to access mental health services in the school. So they're more likely to get support for mental health in schools. And if schools are physically closed, it's unlikely that they're providing those types of supports for youth. So that's something that's been on my radar. Something that I've also been thinking about is we know that that was already on our radar before COVID was the increased risk for suicide among black teens, for example. So that was something that was flagged by the CDC. We know that suicide rates were increasing, particularly among young black men. And so that was something that was already happening that could be further exacerbated by what's happening in the country. So now you have to worry about a health pandemic layered on top of other types of injustices 

    Maddie Bunting: COVID-19 has caused all of us to check our physical health and, I think, be extra grateful for that and understand that health is wealth. And I know from at least for myself, that was a bit of an awakening. Oh, don't take it for granted, but what can happen? I never would have thought I would live through a pandemic. Or so many would die in a pandemic. I mean, it's, it's, it's out of body almost a little bit. But with mental health and just societal well-being. Also with racism and with what's really going on in addressing this issue. And there's been a lot of talk of you saying, quote unquote the new normal. And I've seen so much, well, we don't want to go back to the way things were. We want to move forward. And I think those protests were such a wonderful way to, to show this is our collective voice. We are done with what was, and we are working towards what we want for the future. And I think of the sixties with Martin Luther King Jr. and I think of the nineties with Rodney King and just loving in LA and growing up hearing about that. And now George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, just a countless amount of names, which is so upsetting. But I'm curious, you know, as a public policy major thinking about, okay, I hope this can't happen. I hope these, our younger generations, myself included, and I can make a change and make a difference. And that's when I went to work towards your research and what you teach and what you look into, what do you think, moving forward, should be put in place for, for black and brown communities to address inequality and inequity. And, and how to level the playing field and say racism. It's, it's, it's in society and we want it gone. And that's a huge thing. But I'm just curious what your thoughts are of, of how we can help the youth and young adults, so when they grow up, it's a better future.

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah. I'm really glad that you asked this question. Because I think what happened in the last few months around all of this, I think, you know, everyone was kind of forced to tune in because we're all glued to our phones and social media. So then it was like impossible to look away. So there was a lot of shock when people saw all of the things that were kind of happening. And I think we, a lot of us, kind of woke up and realized like this is not okay. And some of us knew it wasn’t okay. But, you know, the majority of us realize this is not okay. And so I think, and then there was a lot of like crisis, what I call it crisis interventions where there were a lot of statements and things came out and they were condemning racism, anti-black bias. And so I think what we're seeing now, and as you said, it's true some of the conversation has kind of died down a bit. And I think what should happen now is this is where the real work happens. So the performative work, like which is important and we recognize, that happened, it shed light on a lot of issues. And a lot of things that we weren't thinking about, but now is where we really move towards like action. And as you said, policies and I think about policies and practices. And when I think about policies and practices, I think about what we can do at multiple levels, which I think can feel overwhelming. But the good news is it doesn't have to be me enacting change at every single level. But there are levels on the individual level like what can I add the parent due with my family to teach them about, you know, if I can, I create a space that supports multiculturalism and anti-racism. So that's something that parents can do. Thinking about your friend groups and thinking about the conversations that you have in your home that can happen at a very individual family level. But as you said, some of these have to happen at the broader educational systems, with the justice system. Some folks are calling for complete dismantling. Some people are calling for defending, actually really appreciate the reallocation of resources to other supports that we know would be better, like mental health services and social workers. So I think that's one policy change that can happen. One thing that I think has been really interesting is to see citizens creating their own systems of accountability and the absence of that. So one of the reasons why we know all of this is happening is because individual people had been filming what's happening, sharing it on social media. So that's a system of accountability on the individual level that now we all see it. But that can happen at the systemic level. So I heard, just as a quick story, I met a judge once at a conference and she shared that she collects her own data on demographics of young people that she sentences in order to understand how she's making decisions in terms of different cases. So we know that bias can affect, you know, young people. So boys in particular can be treated differently in the justice system. Girls of color are treated differently in the justice system ,if you look older than they are, but, you know, mentally, we know cognition doesn't always follow physical development, but a young person may look older than they are. Are we making more adult rulings in that case? So I really appreciated her sharing that she had created her own system of keeping data in order to see her own bias. Like am I making more harsh sentences for young people who have darker skin color, for example. So that's something that schools can do. That's something that our government could do. Just create these systems of accountability. 

    Arleth Flores Aparicio: Definitely, especially when it comes to data. I think that's what I mean as public policy majors. We take statistics classes and try to see what that correlation is and how that is going to affect us in the future? I think that's one policy recommendation or even just to think about or even just, you know, in public comment, I'd like a city council, like are you what are you telling the Sheriff's Department or do you have data collection and how many people that you are arresting or that are being pulled over? Yeah, not even being booked. 

    Aerika Loyd: So like which communities are being targeted? 

    Maddie Bunting: To your point, a lot of, a lot of people were aware, a lot of people were deciding to be ignorant. But when you see these videos or when you need cops to wear cameras to prove that you are that you are treating people equally or you aren't. And it breaks my heart that we need that. But I do like the sense of accountability because I think it will help get things done. 

    Arleth Flores Aparicio: Very true. And Dr. Lloyd, I have a follow-up question. When it comes to that accountability. I know you're talking about videos and statistics and data. But kind of on that psychological level that you do your research on. When it comes to accountability, how can we do it more in the system of what we're talking about? I feel like systemic racism, everyone has been talking about it. But at the core of it, what's the recommendations? What are we questioning? Is it through the schools as you know, it starts at the teacher or does it start up Administration? So it's, it's a tough question to be like, where do you kind of resolve systemic racism, but yet it’s so broad. 

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah, you know, it's, it's, it's so it's interesting because I've had this conversation, I've had this debate with students, you know, where do we start? And sometimes we're kind of moved to feeling overwhelmed because unfortunately, from the inception of the United States, we can just start there. You know, it was founded with not ideal social conditions. 

    Maddie Bunting: Yeah, the original sin.

    Aerika Loyd: Yeah, so it's, it's kind of embedded in the system, in the society, you know, and how the society kind of rolled out. And so every decision that we make is a decision that's or a policy that we make or law that's targeted at kind of changing that culture is a step in kind of dismantling the systems that were put in place originally. So we're doing, we're undoing centuries of laws and practices and the ways that people were viewed. You know, if we even think about indigenous communities and how we interact with indigenous communities and how they're, you know, one thing that I've seen that's been really interesting, but something that I've thought about since I was a child is the fact that they're often used as mascots. That decision, that cultural acceptance is kind of embedded in our system and in our society. And the fact that, you know, people are okay with that, with wearing, you know, insignia and making hand gestures and using really kind of denigrated racial epithets, you know, that I think is, is difficult. But so let me say there have been laws that were written that change behaviors because it's very difficult to change people's attitudes. But if we create or change laws that can really change social behaviors. So Brown vs Board of Education was a really great example of that. You know, the, the move to desegregate schools. So historically there was this separate but equal, even though most of the country knew that it wasn't really equal. But saying, you know, that you have to desegregate the schools. That was a really historic case, but changed the educational landscape. And unfortunately, there have been a number of rollbacks to Brown vs Board of Education, for example, Seattle Schools versus Parents Involved. Kind of not dismantled by the decision that was made in that case, kind of undermined the spirit of Brown vs Board of Education. So I think what we see in the history of our country is like a couple steps forward, one step back, except so it's like we're constantly kinda pushing the needle forward. And I don't know if this is because we live in this high-tech, high-speed society, but I think people expect us to be able to dismantle racism overnight. And I think there's some about, you know, like we shared, you know, on Twitter and you know, racism still exists.  And of course it does because, you know, one thing that I've been inspired by, the late John Lewis talked about how this is a movement of a lifetime. You know, we have to kinda stay in it and continue with it. And there will be changes that will happen after I'm gone that will benefit young people and all the work that they're putting into it. So I might not benefit from my work and my effort, but young people that follow me will be inspired to continue to do the work and to do it in new and innovative ways. So for me, that's been really inspiring. 

    Outro: This Podcast is a production of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy. I'm Maddie Bunting, till next time.