American University Students Studying on Campus

Control X: Cutting the Digital Divide at American University

Once a luxury, laptops are now a “basic necessity,” notes Jeehyun Davis, AU’s University Librarian. While not every AU student can afford a laptop, they have become essential for anyone seeking knowledge and connection.

As a result, AU launched the Inclusive Technology Initiative last fall, a program that is lessening the university community’s digital divide—the gap between those with access to technology and those without.

Thanks to Davis’s vision for a concerted campus-wide strategy, plus a combined philanthropic and university investment, students identified by the Office of Financial Aid as having the highest need are now given laptops to keep and provided with AU tech support while they remain at AU. This initiative results from a collaboration between the University Library, the Office of Financial Aid, the Office of Inclusive Excellence, and the Office of Information Technology—units that previously endeavored to support students in similar capacities on their own, without a unified strategy in place. In this pilot year, 120 AU students have benefited from the collective Inclusive Technology Initiative.

 “Often, the things students require are rather quite simple,” notes Davis, who came to AU in the summer of 2021. Yet, providing needed technology tremendously impacts a student’s ability to thrive and reach their full potential at AU.

While AU boasts more than 700 computers in its labs across campus, laptops enable students to embrace mobility and are always available. They offer the flexibility to study, research, test, and connect where and when it is most suitable—from the comfort of a dorm room, outside a classroom, or while traveling to a city far away, and within or outside of computer lab hours.

Laptops provide convenience for students to engage with all facets of the AU experience. When permissible, students may use them for notetaking in class, which supports their ability to study and produce assignments efficiently.

“Without this great program, I would not have been able to complete the courses that I did this semester,” noted one student who received a laptop courtesy of the Inclusive Technology Initiative.

Laptops also facilitate communication and a more collaborative learning environment when individuals cannot be face-to-face. For example, students can meet online with professors and peers for virtual office hours, course discussions, and study groups, which boosts learning and a sense of belonging vital to student thriving. Additionally, students can more easily reach their personal support systems, such as family and friends outside the AU community, which further aids their ability to succeed at AU.

With Davis at the helm, the University Library is also crafting its first strategic plan—one that promotes equity and puts accessibility at the forefront. Critical to Davis’s goal is the expansion of digitization, diverse points of view, and freely available access to the library’s current collections. In addition, Davis and her staff currently encourage AU faculty to publish their work through open-access resources. They will continue to emphasize this impact on research, knowledge, and the opportunity to advance society.

“Access to information means civilization, equity, and expansion of knowledge. Therefore, you can actually create opportunities for yourself,” stated Davis in an interview for This Week at AU.

The University Library’s commitment to expanded access to information and resources and the university’s Inclusive Technology Initiative are cutting the digital divide on campus and beyond and allowing more students to depart AU prepared to improve the world as changemaking alumni.

You can help AU support more student changemakers in need with a gift of any amount to the American University Librarian Visionary Fund.