“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin
On Tuesday, July 21, the college will add “Black Lives Matter” to our corner marquee messages. This message will remain through August; however, the intention of this message will carry on as we work to be a place where every student knows they belong from their first step onto our campus; where every student knows they have a community of faculty, classified professionals, administrators, executive leadership and a Governing Board who are consistently thinking, planning and supporting their success.
In the middle of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the nation is grappling and reckoning with the pandemic of historic and institutionalized racism founded on anti-blackness. From law enforcement, business, economics and branding and imaging, the nation is opening its eyes to the structural racism that has prevented Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) from realizing the ideals established at the birth of our country:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Southwestern College serves a diverse community that represents the diversity of our state. We are positioned to be a model of equity-focused practices. Our vision to be a leader in equitable education that transforms the lives of students and communities can be realized because of the strength of our diverse, resilient, culturally-rich, and education-focused community.
Yet our college is working through historic injustices like the rest of our nation and communities. For the past four years, our college has been working to address anti-blackness, dismantle institutional racism and create accountability processes for this work. Anti-blackness at Southwestern College has manifested itself in our hiring, retention and promotion practices, our student success rates, and in our relationships both interpersonal and professional. This has negatively impacted all our BIPOC employees and students. We have also seen our Black student population decline as our Black community population has increased, telling us that our Black community members do not see Southwestern College as their community college.
Four years ago, the Governing Board made a commitment to doing the tough work (some might have said impossible at that time) of deconstructing institutionalized racism and anti-blackness at Southwestern College. This is more possible today than it has ever been. As a college, we have experienced the pain and difficulty of this work. It requires organization and self-reflection of success and failure. It has taken our willingness to be vulnerable as an institution and as people.
Our employees have engaged in this early through a student-focused lens, and because of this are ready to step into the urgency of this moment.
As a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI), we recognize that when Black lives are lifted then all lives are lifted. We cannot achieve equity for our students or community until anti-blackness is addressed systematically and relationally.
Over the past four years, we have engaged in both system and relational work. The Governing Board has prioritized policy advancing equity and dismantling institutionalized racism and anti-blackness. We have changed recruitment, hiring and professional development practices – increasing the diversity of our campus leadership. We are seeing some of the strongest, equity-focused candidates joining our campus community as a result. Our faculty, classified professionals and administrators have embarked on formal and informal efforts to grow in equity-focused professional practices and personal growth.
As your college Superintendent/President, I have been moved to tears on many occasions as our employees and students intentionally engage in difficult conversations that are focused on growth and being a better college. In the fall, we will release survey results from employees and students on their campus climate experiences and launch a webpage dedicated to housing all the work we have done and will continue to do in order to advance equity at Southwestern College. We will continue to hold ourselves to the highest level of transparency, communication and accountability so that every student and potential student knows that they belong at Southwestern College.
“Sometimes a breakdown can be the beginning of a kind of breakthrough, a way of living in advance through a trauma that prepares you for a future of radical transformation.” Cherrie Moraga