by Luke Lara, Ed.D.
Twenty-first Century Community College Leaders must account for and understand the impact of race, racism and white supremacy. The foundation of oppression in the United States of America is racial and is infused in our social institutions, such as higher education. Race is central to all inequitable outcomes and is compounded when it intersects with other subordinations (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, disability, age).
Historian Dr. Ibram Kendi writes that racist policies create racist ideas, not the other way around. This would explain why people cannot accept that they are themselves racist. Racist policies create racist structures, which create and maintain White Supremacy. These structures have been imbedded in every institution in the United States. Higher education privileges white students, staff, faculty, and administrators. Leaders of the 21st century must be visionary while also facing our past, learning from it, and dismantling racism and white supremacy.
On a national level, there is little guidance from professional associations.
One of the primary advocacy and leadership development organizations for community colleges is the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). In 2013, AACC introduced a second edition of the AACC Competencies for Community College Leaders. Within this document, meant for the 21st century leader, the word “equity” is only written once. It is recommended that after three years of leadership, the CEO must be able to “create an environment that promotes access, inclusion, and equity for all members of the community.” There is no mention of centering equity or centering racial equity within the document.
In 2016, AACC, along with the Association of Community College Trustees (AACT) wrote a “Joint Statement of Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Excellence in Student Success and Leadership Development.” Their statement centers socio-economic background: “AACC and ACCT remain committed to programs that improve educational outcomes for all students, especially those representing various socioeconomic [emphasis added] backgrounds including, but not limited to race, gender, and age.”
What would it look like to center race in this equity statement? “The AACC and ACCT remain committed to programs that improve educational outcomes for all students, especially those representing various racial backgrounds including, but not limited to socio-economic, gender, and age.”
It would acknowledge what our students experience: gender, age, and socioeconomic status intersect with race and further compound oppression experienced within a white supremacy structure.
The joint statement acknowledges “that much work is required to provide programs for diverse students and equip current and future leaders with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in an increasingly diverse and demanding higher education environment.” We need the AACC to lead and advocate for change by centering race in equity.
One of the most importance competencies for the emerging leader and CEO in the 21st century is to be able to facilitate bold and critical conversations about white supremacy, its history in higher education, its impact on people (students, staff, faculty, administration), and its legacy on policy (locally, regionally, and nationally). Let’s talk about race, and then let’s get to work on changing our institutions.