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 at Austin through its National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development outreach arm, the conference touched on a broad range of issues relating to enriching and enhancing two-year college leadership and faculty instruction.
Several sessions examined diversity issues as well, such as one titled, “Diversity Matters in the Community College.” The session featured a number of minority two-year college leaders, including Palo Alto College President Ana M. Guzmán, Maricopa County Community College District Chancellor Rufus Glasper and League for Innovation in the Community College President Gerardo E. de los Santos.
The retirement of the baby boomers will create one challenge for community colleges in coming years, said de los Santos. Thousands of deans, chancellors and presidents are expected to step down in coming years, creating hard-to-fill vacancies, he said.
de los Santos also discussed how the hot-button topic of immigration reform will affect community colleges, especially in heavily Hispanic-populated states like Arizona. Glasper delicately described the state as “not sympathetic” to diversity issues, in reference to the passage of Proposition 300, which denies in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students at public colleges. As a rapidly expanding Hispanic population has swelled the number of minorities to 1/3 of the U.S. population, de los Santos said “serving the undocumented” will be a critical task for community colleges.
Lloyd Sheldon Johnson, the chairman of the behavioral science department at Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College, was featured in another session, titled “From Failure in the ‘Hood’ to Success in the Academy.” He called Bunker Hill’s student body highly diverse, noting that 60 percent of its students hail from about 90 different countries.
“But we do not have that diversity reflected in our teaching faculty,” Johnson said. “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?” he continued.
During the session, Johnson listed several ways that community colleges can effectively reach a broadly diverse group of students. Among the suggestions was breaking up ethnic cliques that form from the first day of classes. Typically, Johnson says, his African-American students will cluster 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.
High-achieving White students in his classes will often unite to form study groups, he says, adding that mixing minorities and lower-achieving Whites into those groups 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,” Johnson says.
“You get what you expect. For most of the students at the community college, everyone is expecting 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,” he continues. “We can’t expect that in the classroom. When you expect a lot from them, they produce.”
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