From teaching at higher education institutions to my current role leading an educational justice organization, one truth has remained crystal clear to me throughout my career: There can be no education without educators.
The faculty and staff of the California Community Colleges prove this daily. Each year, the community college system’s Hayward Award recognizes faculty members driving excellence in service of students.
Winsome Jackson, a political science professor at Sierra College for 25 years, is one of three faculty members recently honored. In her remarks, Jackson said, “I encourage more members of the community to not treat equity as a garnish, but to recognize that it is the main ingredient in everything we do, not only for students but all employees.”
Jackson’s words could not be more apt. As the largest and most diverse system of higher education in the country, California’s community colleges have a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of students by breaking down existing barriers to equity.
I am all too familiar with these barriers, both personally and as the current executive director for The Education Trust–West, an organization working to improve education in California.
The experience of educators and advocates alike makes it clear — the opportunity ahead for California’s community colleges will hinge on their ability to fully implement the system’s strategic plan, the Vision for Success, which is based on a central commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.
To meet this moment, the system must commit to a set of efforts that provide a road map to make campuses safer, more accessible and more welcoming to students of color and other underserved student groups. Diversifying faculty and staff and placing an emphasis on equity and inclusion in the classroom environment are core components of this work. Research shows that all students benefit from diverse faculty, staff and curriculum. A more diverse learning environment supports students’ socio-emotional needs by creating an increased sense of belonging and validation, which leads to greater retention and success.
We know the diversity of faculty and staff has a direct impact on the experience and success of students, both from the research on student success and the overwhelming amount of qualitative evidence from students themselves. Faculty and staff’s leadership and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are essential if California is to move forward with equity as the main ingredient, not a garnish.
To deliver on these commitments, California Community Colleges must embed diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility into faculty and staff evaluation and the tenure review processes.
This month, the Community Colleges Board of Governors has an opportunity to integrate cultural competency into the evaluations and tenure processes of all system leaders. The proposed changes require campus leaders to support faculty and staff with professional development opportunities and call for campuses to work with local collective bargaining partners to incorporate diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility competencies and criteria into performance evaluation and tenure review. This framework was carefully developed with input from district leaders, faculty and colleges alike, with a special focus on ensuring student, faculty and staff representation.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen countless examples of institutions saying the right words when it comes to advancing equity but failing to take concrete steps to match their words with action. With higher education systems across the country looking to California to lead by example, we must do better.
Making equity more than a garnish means making diversity and inclusion a necessary component of what it means to be an effective, excellent educator. The proposal before the board of governors supports faculty, staff and students by requiring that community college educators demonstrate these competencies while also offering ways for them to learn and grow. It offers a chance to break down barriers to equity for students and create an inclusive campus and classroom culture where students are more likely to persist and succeed.
Christopher Nellum is executive director of The Education Trust–West, a statewide research, policy and advocacy organization focusing on educational justice and closing achievement and opportunity gaps for underserved students, especially students from lower-income communities.
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