Southwestern College Launches ‘Belong’ Equity Effort for Inclusive Excellence

Graphic that says "Belong: Southwestern College's Campus Climate Survey"

Southwestern College this week launched its “Belong” effort and a website to house its work to build and strengthen equity and inclusion actions while addressing issues of racism and discrimination.

The Belong website——brings together data and research that will inform the college’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and will eventually include all the college’s efforts to engage the college community in implementing and supporting equitable practices.

“Long before the country began the painful and critically important conversation about institutional racism and systems of oppression, we had been actively working to dismantle  structural racism and to be a place where every student knows they belong from their first step onto our campuses,” said Superintendent/President Dr. Kindred Murillo.

“We want Southwestern College to be a place where every student knows they have a community of faculty, classified professionals, administrators, executive leadership and Governing Board members who are consistently thinking, planning and supporting their success,”  Murillo said. “The social awakening to the issues of racial and social injustice in our country and local communities have only fortified our efforts.”

Bolstered by the findings of a report from the USC Race and Equity Center in 2018 to understand the racial campus climate experiences of employees, the college conducted campus climate surveys in spring 2019 to get a broader understanding of student, faculty and staff experiences. A comprehensive summary of the findings of each of the surveys was compiled into a 58-page report that serves as the guidepost for the college’s ongoing Belong efforts.

“Superintendent/President Murillo’s entire tenure has been focused on the college’s continued pursuit and championing of equity,” said Governing Board President Nora E. Vargas. “Bringing together all our resources to ensure everybody who steps onto campus—as an employee or as a student—feels like they belong is our ultimate goal.”

The Belong report outlines the findings from three separate surveys of students, faculty and staff to assess the racial climate on campus. The student survey, the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climate, was developed by the USC Race and Equity Center. It measured six areas, including cross-racial engagement and appraisals of institutional commitment. It was benchmarked against responses from 20 other four-year and two-year institutions.

The faculty and staff surveys were conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA and measured six similar areas, including campus diversity and workplace connection.

In most of the categories across all surveys, campus climate sentiments were similar and favorable, in general. However, once the data was disaggregated for race and ethnicity, it became clear there were differences in campus climate experiences amongst different racial and ethnic groups.

The results provide specific areas for the college to address to achieve its goal of creating a sense of belonging. Southwestern College takes pride in being the only public institution of higher education in Southern San Diego County, serving a diverse community of students. The college provides a rich learning environment—for both students and employees—that embraces its cultural differences and experiences.

Southwestern is continuing its work to update its hiring processes, increase accountability, deliver culturally competent and race-conscious professional development and reconfigure human resource systems and processes. All those actions are in alignment with the California Community Colleges Chancellor (CCCC) Eloy Oakley’s “Call To Action,” which details specific steps community colleges can take to confront structural racism existing in higher education.

Leading this work is the Office of Equity and Engagement, a new department reporting directly to the Office of the Superintendent/President. The office also supports the Advisory Commission on Inclusion and Race Relations (ACIRR), which has begun working to develop an Anti-Racism, Strategic Plan guided by recommendations in the CCCC’s 2020 Report: Vision for Success, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce.

The plan will include strategies from the report that address educational equity, supporting the increasing diversity of students and employees, policy changes and addressing areas where institutional racism exists. Further, it will highlight opportunities and make recommendations for areas where greater inclusion is possible. Once complete, the plan will be housed on the Belong webpage and will be reviewed and updated regularly.