A record 2,300 attendees from community colleges across the nation descended on Austin, Texas, last week for the 29th annual International Conference on Teaching and Leadership Excellence, held May 20-23. Hosted by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas-Austin through its National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development (NISOD) outreach arm, the conference touched on a broad range of issues relating to enriching and enhancing two-year college leadership and faculty instruction.
A number of sessions touched on diversity issues as well, such as one titled, “Diversity Matters in the Community College,” which featured a number of minority leaders in the two-year college realm including Dr. Ana M. Guzmán, president of Palo Alto College in San Antonio; Dr. Rufus Glasper, chancellor of the Maricopa County (AZ) Community College District; and Dr. Gerardo E. de los Santos, president of the League for Innovation in the Community College.
De los Santos discussed a number of challenges community colleges will face as the coming wave of baby boomer retirements hits full force, and thousands of deans, chancellors, and presidents are expected to step down in coming years, creating hard-to-fill vacancies.
He also touched on the hot-button topic of immigration reform as it pertains to community colleges in a state like Arizona that is “not sympathetic” to diversity issues, as Glasper delicately put it – evidenced by the passage of Proposition 300, a ballot initiative denying illegal-immigrant students in-state tuition and financial aid at state colleges. “Serving the undocumented” is a critical task community college face, especially as these schools are forced to vet the immigration status of students who “don’t know any other country,” de los Santos added.
Another NISOD session touching on a number of diversity issues was titled, “From Failure in the ‘Hood’ to Success in the Academy,” which featured Lloyd Sheldon Johnson, chairman of the behavioral science department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. Sheldon says that Bunker Hill has a very diverse student body, as 60 percent of students hail from around 90 countries spanning the globe. “But we do not have that diversity reflected in our teaching faculty. We do not have a lot of brown people teaching in our institution. It is something that is very important because students need to look at someone who looks like them that they can model after in some way.
“I have a colleague at the college who’s been teaching there for 30 years who has never discussed race in his class. How can you be in Boston, Massachusetts, at this institution which was opened with the National Guard outside of its doors, and not talk about race?” Johnson asks.
Nevertheless, Johnson listed a number of ways that community colleges can effectively reach students representing a broad range of ethnicities, including breaking up ethnic cliques that form from the first day of classes. Johnson says typically, his African- American students will cluster together with Cambodians and Vietnamese students, while White students cluster with other groups, to the detriment of cross-cultural learning and open dialogue in the classroom.
Johnson added that in his classes, high-achieving White students will naturally cluster together and form study groups, and mixing lower-achieving Whites and other ethnicities in can help everybody.
“When you address these things up front, you create learning communities, you create this cluster, you do see that there is going to be some success and that students will do the work.
“You get what you expect. For most of the students at the community college, everyone is expected that they will fail, that they will end up incarcerated, that they will end up with a house full of kids – that’s what’s expected of them from the world, from their family members, from society and the culture at large. We can’t expect that in the classroom. When you expect a lot from them, they produce,” Johnson says.
For more information on NISOD and the number of community college resources it provides, visit www.nisod.org
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