A diverse faculty benefits everyone

iStock

The renewed attention to racial justice and equity this summer is adding momentum to the push for a more diverse faculty at community colleges.

That’s the perspective of California community college leaders who spoke at a webinar on Tuesday hosted by EdSource and Wheelhouse: the Center for Community College and Research based at the University of California Davis.

According to Daisy Gonzalez, deputy chancellor of the California Community Colleges, a diverse faculty contributes to better-educated students and greater career success. However, she noted, in 2017, students of color comprised 73 percent of the state’s community college enrollment, while 61 percent of tenured and 60 percent of non-tenured faculty were white.

Hiring for diversity

Gonzalez spoke about the importance of Proposition 16 on the California ballot in November, which would allow colleges to consider race in hiring decisions. That measure would repeal Proposition 209, enacted in 1996, which banned affirmative action involving race or gender-based preferences in public institutions of higher education, employment, schools and contracting.

Repealing Proposition 209 would be a game-changer, said Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District. It would allow colleges to use gender and race as a value-added factor in the hiring process.

Edward Bush, president of Consumnes River College, noted that repealing Prop 209 also would make it easier for colleges to ensure students with the greatest needs get the most resources – by allowing colleges to use race as a factor.

Support for applicants

In the Los Angeles district, faculty candidates go through a yearlong program and are assigned a mentor in the spring semester, Rodriguez said. The district also has a presidents academy for people interested in leadership.

Rodriguez advised people interviewing for faculty positions to not just reiterate what’s on their resume but to talk about “the traits and skills that make you unique” and “what you can do for this organization.”

“When you bring in your diversity, you’re bringing value to institution and authenticity to your voice,” Rodriguez said. “Our lived experience is value added.”

“Including the student voice in the hiring committee would be one step toward more equity in the system,” added Gerardo Chavez, a student at Riverside Community College and a member of the board of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.

As an immigrant from El Salvador and a first-generation college student, Chavez found it tiring to deal with “the mentality that we always have to break the ceiling.”

Bush called for colleges to be intentional about pinpointing certain disciplines that have no faculty of color. He said it’s highly probable that a student can complete a community college education without having an African-American or Latinx faculty member.

It’s not only students of color who need diverse faculty, he said. “We can argue white students need this even more.”

“The only thing stopping us from hiring faculty of color is the will to do so,” Bush said. And if that is a priority, colleges need to allocate resources to that effort.

He advised college leaders to have hiring committees that reflect the demographics of the institution and support “equity champions,” including white allies, who can speak on the importance of diversity.

Transforming the culture

It’s not enough to have diverse faculty; the panelists addressed the need to infuse equity and racial justice into all campus policies and practices.

The California Community Colleges in July proposed a measure to codify and strengthen the system’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Gonzalez said.

“We are asking colleges to transform their culture,” Gonzalez said. The system is encouraging colleges to have inclusive departmental networks, policies on cultural competency and standardized qualifications for hiring and recruitment aimed at increasing diversity.

At Cuyamuca College, President Julianna Barnes launched a task force on equity and social justice to work on providing a more just environment for everyone. She called for colleges to raise awareness about institutional racism in hiring practices, so the faculty understands the importance of diversity and can better prepare people trying to gain a foothold.

“We proactively seek out diverse candidates who want to teach and give them experiences teaching in the classroom,” Barnes said.

Systemic change

As an immigrant from Mexico who entered school not knowing English and was a first-generation college student, Rodriguez knows first-hand the obstacles faced by minorities. This work is important because “racial inequalities lead to disparate educational outcomes,” Rodriguez said. “That requires honest conversations about power and privilege. Without that, we run the risk of perpetuating inequities.”

“It’s not good enough to acknowledge we have perpetuated racism. We have to be actively antiracist,” Rodriguez said. And that encompasses more than education; it’s also about police reform and access to jobs.

Among the steps underway to promote equity at the Los Angeles colleges, Rodriguez feels strongly about curriculum development.

“What we teach represents what we value,” he said.

As a woman of color, Barnes found herself a frequent target of microaggression, if not outright racism. For example, she recalls being asked, “so you’re the president of the whole college?”

It’s really important to understand critical race theory and why it’s important to have diversity, she said.

“We often share the stories our students of color go through and we don’t acknowledge the pain,” added Bush. “It is not okay to have to go through an institution if you have to question whether you can be your authentic self or whether to respond to microaggressions.”

Mentors are critical

To increase the odds of success for faculty members, having a mentor is key, said Jeffrey Hernandez, president of the Academic Senate at East Los Angeles College (ELAC). Hernandez said he was hired as a token minority for his first teaching job and wasn’t supported by his supervisors. He then reconnected with a mentor from his days as a student ELAC, and she helped him get a faculty position there.

He said the Academic Senate is working with the administration to determine which departments need a more diverse faculty the most and to promote training for those departments.

“It was hard for me to find mentors when the faculty lacks diversity,” Chavez said. He only had two professors of color since he entered the California community college system in 2016.

At Consumnes, new faculty members are assigned mentors and participate in an equity academy in their second semester where they are encouraged to build relationships within their cohort, Bush added.

Time to act

When asked how people should respond if they fear retaliation for bringing up issues about racism and equity, Bush acknowledged, “this work takes courage.” If fear is an obstacle, “it will be difficult to make changes.”

He said people shouldn’t be discouraged if they are rejected. “The right institution will find you. Continue to speak truth to power.”

“It’s worth taking the risk,” Rodriguez said. “We rest on the shoulders of people who took a more perilous path. It takes moral courage to move forward.”

Just having these dialogues is important, Chavez said, but his hope for the future is to move from dialogue to action.

“Two years ago, if we talked about anti-racism, we would be booed,” Gonzalez said. Now people are embracing this. “This is the moment.”

“We have a critical mass and a critical will to establish antiracist institutions,” Barnes said.

“It’s more than a moment. It’s a movement,” Rodriguez added.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.