What does it mean to address equity and diversity in a community college setting? More specifically, as an academic administrator at Santa Barbara City College? I recently had the opportunity to reflect upon this very question and the topic feels important enough to share more broadly.
Why is diversity and equity important?
Addressing diversity and equity is important because almost 60% of the students at Santa Barbara City College, where I am employed, are students of color. I suspect this is a common statistic for many of our California community colleges. It is important because the research clearly indicates that students of color are less successful in completion and retention. It is important because we don’t always know who the students are in our classrooms and what personal and systemic barriers may exist in their lives – whether that be race, gender, economic, or lack of educational experience in the family. It is important because the majority of faculty and staff may not be members of the student equity populations and yet they will be called upon to support and teach these students. It is important because we all have blind spots, and unconscious biases, that inform the services and programs of the institution. And as an academic administrator, and campus leaders, we need to have the most understanding and the clarity for addressing diversity and equity issues.
What can we do?
First, addressing diversity and equity always begins with oneself. Do we have awareness of what we bring to the institution? I am a middle class, white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical male with a graduate degree. I am a father to an autistic young person with a developmental disability. And my mother came out as gay in her forties. All this informs the way I think, understand, and view the world. My worldview is also built upon a mindfulness practice that includes training on equanimity, understanding and compassion. This background helps me serve and be an advocate of diversity and equity but it also means there are inherent biases present. Personal awareness means that any employee can be a voice and advocate for diversity and equity issues. I see myself as a learner who must continually engage with my biases, both known and unknown. On occasion, this has been quite a surprise. For me, this means trying to be humble, listen to understand, acknowledge my ignorance, and use my place of privilege to support change and advocate for others. This is the exploration and conversation that I would encourage and pursue in this position – to help transform those already present in the institution to be more equity-minded and to help others to be learners.
Second, addressing diversity and equity requires us to look at the data. We have made great strides, but the systemic issues still remain. We have offered a great deal of employee education on our campus over the past 5-6 years. A lot of data has been presented, discussed, and open forums have been offered. This brought forward the opportunity to create the Student Equity Committee and the Equity Plan. These are big changes. And yet, our institution has moved at what feels like a very slow pace. I know these are large issues, and I also know how challenging it can be to influence change. This year as dean, I began to make data more accessible to departments who offer online courses. My office generated a report for each department and sent it to the chairs along with some very specific questions for exploring the data. We have the capacity to continue to expand this effort by getting the information directly into the hands of those who have the ability to impact student learning.
Third, in the area of faculty hiring – both adjunct and contract. Working with our department chairs and managers to transform the job announcement and the interview experience can expand the colleges opportunity to create an employee base that is diverse, inclusive, and equity-minded. Our Equal Employment Opportunity Committee is taking leadership with this and I’m honored to be on the team. Through this effort, we will automatically influence our student experience and hopefully student success.
These are three ideas, and perhaps another is to turn to those voices on campus who have experience and knowledge of diversity and equity issues. To turn to them and empower and support their efforts. I will be an advocate.
In conclusion, let me offer a short story from my perspective as a white, cisgender male. I remember my very first professional employment in 1994 and how they did a diversity workshop for all faculty and staff. It scared me just a little because I didn’t understand much of what was shared. But at the same time, it immediately became an interest for me to pursue because inequity seemed so clear. Since then, I have remained active in my professional and personal life by continuing to educate myself through training and workshops. For many of the last 5-6 years, I have served as a lead in bringing voices of equity and diversity to campus through work on the Professional Development Advisory Committee and the Equity Committee.
A couple years ago, I offered a deep listening workshop based on my experiences with meditation. In this workshop, we included a panel of student voices who came out of prison. During that session, I felt like many of the audience members “woke up” from something they hadn’t seen or heard before. It was a powerful experience. More recently, I put out an idea for our white employees who were interested in learning more about what it means to be a white ally. The response was very positive and a group of a dozen employees met over 8-10 weeks to read and study the book What it Means to be White by Robin DiAngelo where we explored the concepts of white privilege and white fragility.
We have much to learn as a collective community supporting our students on their path. And we have much to be inspired by for the caring and passion of our faculty, staff, and administrators.