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Community Colleges and Racial Equity – What Leaders Need to Know

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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.

 

Tips for Community College Faculty Position Applicants – Especially Faculty of Color

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Many institutions of higher education have a stated commitment to diversity. Institutions are judged by a variety of constituents (e.g., the public, Equal Employment Opportunity Offices, students) on the amount of racial and gender diversity in all positions. In fact, public institutions of higher education need to have an Equal Employment Opportunity Plan detailing how the institution plans to diversify its staff. Look up the plan at the institutions in your job search. However, how to achieve greater racial and gender diversity is harder than it seems.

Certain laws are in place (with good intention) to prevent discrimination based on protected classes such as race, gender, and many other categories. These non-discrimination laws (e.g., affirmative action, equal employment opportunity) are meant to create an “equal” playing field. That is, race and gender are not to be considered as factors in the employment decision. I make a more detailed and nuanced critique in my dissertation, which is forthcoming. However, for today’s blog, let me just say that despite these color-blind and gender-blind approaches to hiring, there is much to be desired in our diversity outcomes.

Employers cannot consider race, but they are expected to have a racially diverse pool of applicants and subsequently racially diverse hires.

Until race and gender can be dealt with directly in the search process, many institutions who authentically want to improve their diversity outcomes use indirect strategies.

One such approach is to seek equity-minded or cultural competent candidates in the search process. The Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California a great working definition of equity-mindedness. CUE has been leading a movement for equity reform and institutional transformation in California and around the nation. If you are in California, it is likely that the community college you are applying to has worked with CUE. The National Education Association also has a great diversity toolkit for educators, which is based on a cultural competency framework.

Candidates of color have an opportunity to shine as institutions and search committees infuse a cultural competency framework or equity-mindedness lens in the search process. Here are 4 tips for candidates of color to help them tap into their natural talents, gifts, and general awesomeness.

  1. Translate – The committee is most likely going to composed of mostly White people. You may be sharing an experience or cultural concept that the committee may not be familiar with, but is obvious to you. Be detailed in written and in your oral communication. For example, if you are asked a question about how you work with students that are from underrepresented backgrounds, do not say, “I am Latinx and have been all my life, so that means I am able to understand the students’ experiences.” This answer focuses on you, but the question was about students. A better answer would be, “I draw upon my experiences as a Latinx person in k-16 education, and my professional training to understand how systemic barriers impact historically underrepresented students. I engage in X, Y, Z practices to support my students.” If the committee is truly focused on equity and cultural competency, your personal knowledge, and professional skills will be valued as long as you keep the focus on the students and what you have done to facilitate their success.
  2. Transfer – You may have many transferable skills, but if you do not specifically write about them, you will most likely not get an interview. For example, if the job announcement has a desirable skill that the candidate have two years of teaching in the community college, but you only have one semester, how will you stand out? What else have you been doing that is transferable to this experience? Did you teach in high school or at a university? Did you teach adult classes? Just stating these on a resume or cover letter is not enough. You need to explain how these experiences are transferable to the job you are applying for. Connect the dots for the reader of your application. The way you describe your experiences will indicate how well you know the requirements of a community college faculty position. For instance, the committee is more likely to invite you for an interview if they can make the connections between what you have done and what they are asking. Do that job for them (translate) in your c.v. and cover letter. Now that job descriptions will have more equity-minded language, your work with racially diverse populations in non-traditional settings can be a strength if you can translate those experiences to the community college.
  3. Student Outcomes – Equity-mindedness is about acknowledging that there are disparities in student outcomes and taking action to improve those outcomes. It is not just about being student centered. It is about being action-oriented to improve student outcomes. CUE suggested that equity-minded faculty members “use systematic and data driven self-reflection to improve their own practices with a focus on students of color” CUE Multiple Measures Rubric for Application Review, 2017, p. 1). The term students of color can be replaced with any other disproportionately impacted student group (e.g., veterans, women, older students, low-income students), which may vary at each institution or within each department. In California, you can search for the Student Equity Plan at each community college to learn more about which student groups are disproportionately impacted. You should know which specific student groups are not achieving established measures at proportional rates as compared to other student groups within the same category. Here are examples of how to read data in a student equity plan. What percentage of students who have completed key college courses (math and English) and earned a certain amount of units within a given amount of time are Latinx? What percentage of graduating students are Latinx? If the ratio is less than 1.0, then we have disproportionate impact. If the ratio is 1.0 or greater then we do not have disproportionate impact for Latinx students for this measure. In the interview, be able to discuss student outcomes, how you measure them (or how you use data), and how you have addressed them. As a person of color, you are constantly assessing outcomes (formally or informally), as you navigate teaching students and/or interactions with your colleagues. Be ready to explain your strategies in direct and compelling ways.
  4. Cultural Competency – CUE also identified that an equity-minded faculty possess cultural competency. An equity-minded faculty member “shares common experiences with the students at the institution or intentionally creates classroom practices based on student backgrounds” (CUE Multiple Measures Rubric for Application Review, 2017, p. 1). This provides candidates of color an opportunity to really shine in the interview by drawing upon their experiences and what they do in the classroom for students based on student backgrounds. Saying “I treat all students the same” is not an acceptable answer. As educators, we have a responsibility to validate our students, learn from our students, and understand our students. This requires us to be culturally competent. As people of color, most of us are in-tune with our racial identities and how systemic racism has impacted our own experiences. We cannot all have the same experience, even if we are of the same race, however, we can be more compassionate and empathetic toward others because of our shared experiences. Be ready to highlight a couple of vivid examples. Also, be clear about the ways that you are culturally competent toward student groups who are from different backgrounds than you. Anticipate sharing how you arrived at this competency and how it shapes what you do in and out of classroom.

I hope these tips help you approach your job applications and interviews. May you shine and get the position you apply for.

Reflections on Leadership Communication Styles

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I spent Thanksgiving with my wife’s immediate and extended family. Two family members (husband & wife) are both executives in the banking industry. The wife (I’ll call her Carla) started sharing how her husband (I’ll call him Pedro) is having a rough time at work because of his boss. Pedro is a nice guy, knows the industry, and is well respected by his team. His boss (a man) takes his ideas, gives poor direction, and has little regard for anyone but himself. His boss reports directly to the CEO ( a woman). Carla argued that Pedro is not approaching the situation correctly. She gave examples of how her husband has argued with his boss (i.e., let his emotions get the best of him). Carla also stated that Pedro isn’t building a relationship with his CEO.

At this point in the conversation, I agreed with her that arguing with your boss is not a wise strategy and that building a relationship with the CEO is a wise strategy. However, Carla began to give an example of how the CEO went on vacation and put a picture of herself on the beach. What I mean by a picture of herself on the beach is just her toes. The unspoken expectation is that people in the office should “like” her pictures. Pedro said he didn’t “like” the picture. I agreed, in fact, that seemed to me like the CEO was creating a hostile work environment and potentially leaning into sexual harassment territory. Carla, and another female family member (also in a leadership position in another industry) began to argue that “liking” the picture of the toes must be done to play the game of politics.

Where do you draw the line? What does politics at work mean to you? Is it different in higher education? What have you done, just to play the game of politics? What are you not willing to do?

Another story came about this interesting Thanksgiving dinner. Carla shared that her leadership style is about the people. To back this up, she gave the following example: One day she came to one of her branches and saw a teller with a wrinkled shirt. She immediately went across the street and bought an iron. She pulled the worker aside and said, “Take this iron and go to the break room and iron your shirt. The good thing is that you now have an iron.”

I asked her, “Was that your employee?” She replied, “No, but technically works under me.” (She is the boss of the branch managers). Someone at the dinner table said, “Oh, that sounds like you were trying to mentor that fellow.” I think it was said, to reframe the conversation because it was a little awkward there for a minute.

Is that mentoring? Is it micro-managing? Maybe there were more details to the story. Maybe several glasses of gin and tonic may have distorted the facts?

In any case, both of these stories made me think about my own leadership communication style. That night, I tossed and turned, thinking and thinking. I came up with the following acronym: L.A.R.A. That is my last name. Believe me, I didn’t do it on purpose. I also have a counseling background, so it does mirror my counseling training and my understanding of mindfulness communication. It stands for the following:

Listen

Acknowledge

Reflect

Act

So, L.A.R.A. leadership communication begins with listening. That is something I didn’t hear in the stories above. We need to listen, gather information by asking questions, and hear the message behind the message. Listen to learn.

Second, after listening, we need to acknowledge what we’ve heard. Repeat it back to get clarification. Summarize the speaker’s thoughts and reflect it back. Acknowledge to respect.

Third, after acknowledging the message, we must reflect on what we’ve heard. Is it true? Do I need to apologize? What is it that I am being asked to do? How has what I’ve done impacted this person? How can I reply with mindful communication? Reflect to take responsibility.

Lastly, after reflection, we need to act. Through this mutual and collective dialogue, we have listened, acknowledged, and reflected. Now it is time to act respectfully, to commit to an action that represents the appropriate culmination of this process.

Equity in Faculty Hiring

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I just attended an Equity in Faculty Hiring Institute hosted by the Center for Urban Education from the USC Rossier School of Education. This institute hosted over 200 community college faculty, staff, and administrators. Estela Mara Bensimon, Professor & Director, Center for Urban Education, recently wrote in an email to all institute participants:

As you may know, currently in our California community colleges, Latinos represent approximately 45% of the student population, but only 15% of the full-time faculty. Whites, however, make up 26% of the student population, but 60% of full-time faculty. Recognizing that the California Community College system has made a commitment to close equity gaps, the Center for Urban Education (CUE) recently hosted our first ever Institute for Equity in Faculty Hiring at Community Colleges.

A wealth of information was provided within a very tight schedule of 1.5 days. While the topic is timely, it really deserves more conversation. I wonder what the 20 teams of 10 people from each institution will take back and work on.

The community colleges typically begin the process of hiring with the program review process. For example, this is when a department/discipline reviews data, program goals, and determines projected needs, including hiring additional faculty. The process continues with an Academic Senate approved committee that reviews proposed faculty hires and ranks them against each other. A parallel process that involves the CBO, the CEO, and budget forecasting helps determine how many faculty members the district might be able to hire. This sets the limit for the ranked positions. The CEO takes the recommendations and makes a decision, relying primarily on the advice and judgment of the Academic Senate (in most cases). This preliminary process varies from school to school, but typically takes place from August to December (at least at my college).

Now, the fun begins. Job announcements are created and posted. Committees are composed and trained. Committees meet to determine evaluation criteria, interview questions, topics for teaching demonstrations, and other structural components of the interview process. Then, the candidates apply, the committee reviews and select applicants to interview and finally, the interviews happen. After the interviews are complete (usually take place over a two or three day period), deliberation ensues about who to recommend for the 2nd level interview with the college president. The finalists are sent forward, references are checked, and the 2nd level interview takes place. This part typically takes three to four months and happens over the spring semester. The CEO makes the final decision (in most cases) and makes an offer to the selected candidate. The candidate will typically begin their full-time track at the beginning of the following fall semester.

My concern is that this institute had rich resources and an amazing message, yet it replicated the problems that we face in the community college. It was rushed. The tools were laid out before us and they were force fed to us. Sure, we’ll be able to make some modifications here and there, but they will be minimal unless we (our institutions) decide to invest the TIME that is necessary to have bold conversations about what equity means in hiring.

Speaking of equity, what does that really mean. If you read Dr. Bensimon’s email, the percentages refer to racial diversity. Let’s call it what it is. Let’s be bold about RACE. However, at some point in the conference, the conversation turned to looking for faculty who are equity-minded. Again, what was being said was, “We are looking for faculty who are race-conscious when working with students.” For example, Eloy Oakley Ortiz, Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, said, “People of color are not always equity-minded.” While this may be technically true, this message, coming from a person of color, gives permission to all the White people to use this as an excuse to not hire faculty of color.

The real conversation needs to be about how color-blind ideology is pervasive within hiring practices in the community college (see my forthcoming dissertation). CUE’s institute was a breath of fresh air and I am so happy that conversations about equity in hiring are beginning to happen. However, authentic conversations about race, racism, color-blind ideology, and equity need time, space, and regularity. Then, tools like the ones provided to us at CUE’s institute will be meaningful to us and allow us to make powerful and lasting changes to our processes.

California Community College

I want to say that the San Diego State University Educational Leadership Doctoral Program is incredible. I highly recommend anyone seeking to better understand the higher education system and the role of the community college to enroll in this program. Follow this link for more information. I mention this first because from time to time I will write about something that is related to what I have learned in the program.

Today, in my Law and Finance course, we discussed enrollment management. As a counseling faculty member and former department chair, I have had to deal with enrollment management at my departmental level. I saw words like FTES, WSCH, and FTEF, but NOBODY ever took the time to train me or define these terms for me. Today, I finally understood what all this meant. Enrollment management affects all aspects of the college. The ultimate decisions may lie in Instructional services, but there are so many gears that need to work together so that the college can provide the courses to meet the student needs and stay within the means of its budget. Sounds easy, but now I understand why it felt like a nightmare every time I had to deal with scheduling courses.

I recommend that anyone in the community college pay attention to the following key elements of the enrollment management process:

  1. Know the curriculum development process.
  2. Know when the schedule is determined.
  3. Know when the budget is determined.
  4. Know the formula for budget allocation (e.g., understand the importance of FTES).
  5. Listen to your front-line counseling and admissions folk (e.g., canaries in the coal mine).
  6. Get census/attendance data from Admissions Office.
  7. Know the college’s goals (e.g., master plan – grow, maintain, or reduce enrollment).
  8. Cancelling courses is a lose-lose situation (find incentives for faculty to fill their courses).

Lastly, as my instructor said today, “Everyone else can afford to be careless, but you cannot.” If you are an administrator, you cannot afford to be careless. Be transparent about your goals and help your faculty members understand them.

A faculty member perspective may be more about the immediate (e.g., the class I am teaching today), and the administrator may be more focused on the future (e.g., how will the college be responsive to projected demands one or two years down the road). Working together, we can provide quality education to students now and in the future.

First blog post

Welcome to Lara Consulting, where you’ll perspectives on US higher education from the community college and the four-year university. Topics will include faculty hiring, undocumented students, cultural competency, and social justice. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about any of these topics. Our associates have a combined history of 38 years of experience working in higher education. – Lara Consulting