Championing equality

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Last year at this time I was lamenting the cancellation of our 100th Annual Convention — a celebration that we had thoughtfully planned and that I was looking forward to sharing with all of you. Just one year ago we were all facing a pandemic that would uproot our lives, both personally and professionally.

What we did not know then was that the pandemic was only the beginning of what was to be a tumultuous year.

In February, just weeks before the nation shut down due to the coronavirus, Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed in Glynn Country, Georgia, while he was out jogging. On March 13, Breonna Taylor was struck and killed by eight bullets while she slept in her own bed in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 25, George Floyd was murdered while being detained by the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

These three murders would spark a reckoning in the Black community, the likes of which had not been seen in America since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

And now, a year later, we are writing more statements of solidarity with those that still seek peace, equality and freedom. While heartfelt, it was heartbreaking to have to formally state our position on the murders of eight individuals in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women. The rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the past year is unconscionable.

This article comes from the current issue of Community College Journal, published by the American Association of Community Colleges.

The rise in racially motivated hate crimes in the past year is unconscionable.

Hate crimes are unconscionable.

The sad truth is that these incidents are not isolated or unusual. They were just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. People have had enough of violence and hatred aimed at people of color.

Race in higher ed

As community college leaders, you may experience racial tensions on your campus. Racial disparities are often found in the data about community colleges and their students. We can all point to barriers to completion and success for students of color. And, most of you are actively working to address these issues in ways that positively impact the culture of your community college and lessens the inequities found in processes, policies, and curriculum.

As a man of color, I have always been conscientious of talking about the role that race plays in higher education. While supportive of the programs and services that advance the success of students of color, I wanted to be seen as advocating for all community colleges and their students. I was very mindful of my position and my race and what perceptions could be inferred by my actions.

Our community colleges are touted for their ability to provide access to higher education and skills training that positions students to earn family-sustaining wage jobs. They are the on-ramp to the middle class for any American. And, we must ensure that we remain so.

To do so will not be easy. It will require that we not only seek to eliminate barriers to success but that we also are actively anti-racist. We must be intentional in our efforts to support all Americans regardless of color or creed. We must be able to acknowledge privilege where it exists and understand how and why it impacts our actions. We must learn and grow and be vulnerable in a way that champions equality and publicly denounces racism and inequality. We must be accountable and hold others accountable in meaningful ways that advance all people of color.

We must.

It’s what we do

Community college leaders are no strangers to these actions. They are the tenets of good leadership which is something that I am happy to witness each day with leaders from around the country. In my last column, I spoke about the pandemic and how it is an opportunity to rethink how we conduct the business of community colleges. That opportunity also exists in this environment and it is paramount that we actively reimagine how we foster a culture of inclusion and equity and stand up as intentionally antiracist.

The community college must remain a beacon of true and equitable access to quality higher education that welcomes all voices, all colors and all backgrounds to participate and be heard with empathy and with open minds and hearts. Fostering that environment and culture will help all of us learn and grow a healthier, more inclusive, better-educated nation.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.