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Racial Equity Leadership Academy is Partnership Between USC and Achieving the Dream

To support colleges and universities in their efforts to address inequities on campus, Achieving the Dream (ATD) and the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center have collaborated to establish the Racial Equity Leadership Academy (RELA).

Dr. Monica Parrish TrentDr. Monica Parrish Trent

Scheduled to begin last year, COVID-19 delayed the application process. However, the program is now moving forward as 10 institutions were recently selected: Anne Arundel Community College, Austin Community College District, Broward College, Chattanooga State Community College, Columbus State Community College, Kingsborough Community, Lee College, Montgomery County Community College, Mott Community College and Pierce College.

Dr. Monica Parrish Trent, vice president of network engagement at ATD, emphasized that community colleges “play a vital role in advancing racial equity and social justice in the communities they serve.”

“We are excited to partner with the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center to customize and deliver curriculum that will support community colleges, address the structural barriers to equity and invest in equity-minded policies, practices and behaviors that will lead to success for all students,” said Trent.

As part of its application, each institution identified proposed action plans to support student success and close equity gaps. Their goals ranged from increasing Black and Latinx student graduation rates to hiring faculty members that represent the student population to becoming an anti-racist school.

On a national scale, underrepresented students are less likely than their White counterparts to graduate. Around four in 10 minority students earn a bachelor’s degree in six years compared to six in 10 White students, according to Education Trust.

Francesca I. CarpenterFrancesca I. Carpenter

Throughout the program, which was funded by the Kresge Foundation and Greater Texas Foundation, teams consisting of college presidents, faculty members, diversity officers and student affairs professionals will study equity modules, evidence-based tools and frameworks.

While receiving individualized mentorship from ATD and USC coaches and participating in race and equity conversations, the school representatives will develop policies and strategies to achieve their set objectives during the fall semester. Institutions’ plans are meant to align with both their strategic plan and student success action plan.

“Selected colleges have made a commitment to further their equity work and tackle a racial equity change effort specific to their campus community,” said Francesca I. Carpenter, director of equity initiatives at ATD. “Through the identification of a racial equity change effort, the 10 selected colleges have taken the necessary steps to develop a new vision for their campus’ racial equity work and develop a comprehensive, prioritized action plan to operatize their efforts.”

RELA also aims to equip the college leaders with the vocabulary and techniques necessary to effectively hold their own discussions on campus and answer community-wide questions relating to race, racism and equity.

Trent added that the goal is for institutions to both individually and collectively address barriers to racial equality.

An introduction to the program will take place next week during ATD’s annual DREAM conference with sessions officially planned for this summer. Throughout the academic year, institutions will also receive campus visits.

“We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working alongside these college teams,” said Jade Agua, chief learning officer at the USC Race and Equity Center. “This program will be an opportunity for us to bolster and propel the institutional transformation required to center racially minoritized students in the march toward racial equity.”

In the future, ATD plans to look for additional opportunities to continue the academy and train its coaches to provide similar services to its other network colleges.

“With recent evidence of continued racial unrest in our society, Achieving the Dream is as resolved as ever to equip the nation’s community colleges with the strategies, resources and tools required to advance racial equity and social and economic mobility for all students,” said Trent.

Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].

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