California community colleges unite to address racial inequity

More than 60 community colleges in California have joined forces to address racial inequity and improve the racial climate on their campuses. Launched and led by the University of Southern California’s Race & Equity Center, The California Community College Equity Leadership Alliance will offer training sessions, tools, and surveys to participating colleges. Those institutions, in turn, will pay USC $25,000 a year and commit to taking actions that reduce racial disparities. 

‘A specific set of actions’

Dr. Shaun Harper, the executive director of USC’s Race & Equity Center, initially conceived of the alliance in December, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic delayed its launch. But when anti-racism protests swept the country, college presidents turned to Harper for guidance, he told Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

“Here is a way we can take a united stance against racism,” Harper wrote in an email to the presidents of California’s 115 community colleges. “Beyond simply proclaiming that Black lives matter and racism is bad…. Here is a specific set of actions … we can take together as an alliance to actually confirm that Black lives matter, to actually confirm that racial equity is important beyond the trendiness of saying so in this current moment.” More than half of the community colleges signed on, and Harper hopes additional schools will join across time. 

A 12-point racial equity action plan

Colleges in the alliance will send representatives from their campuses to participate in 12 USC-hosted learning modules across the year. Each module will focus on a different aspect of racial equity, and participants will emerge from those sessions having crafted a plan for action at their college—resulting in a “12-dimensional strategic racial equity action plan” at the end of the year. 

Along the way, USC’s Race & Equity Center will provide institution-specific feedback, offer access to an online resource library, and help participating institutions address topics such as reducing racial gaps in student transfer rates and hiring and retaining more faculty of color. The center also will facilitate annual campus climate assessments not only for students but also for faculty and staff; the center will analyze the data and make concrete recommendations for improvement.

Related: Georgetown launches first-of-its-kind cultural climate survey >

Erika Endrijonas, president of Pasadena City College, says she hopes the alliance’s work will help participating campuses to take a whole-institution approach to racial equity. “For too long, colleges have allowed a particular part of the college to own that work,” she told Inside Higher Ed.

Related: Adanna Johnson on Georgetown’s whole-institution approach to equity and inclusion >

‘What it would cost to miss this opportunity’

As colleges continue to grapple with the pandemic, finding funds for new initiatives can be a challenge. But some college leaders believe the alliance is a worthy investment. “It’s an amount of money that I had to really think about,” Kathryn E. Jeffery, president of Santa Monica College, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “But then I also had to think about what it would cost to miss this opportunity to use the momentum of the moment.”

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