COVID-19 has changed the nation and its community colleges forever by bringing to light the racial, social, gender, economic, and technological inequalities that have accelerated during the pandemic. Community college leaders learned many lessons from their experiences, one of which was that the basic needs of our students were not being met.
Colleges have responded with food pantries, transportation vouchers, emergency financial support, expanded mental health services and other basic needs programs. As they hastily transitioned to remote learning, several addressed the disproportionate lack of digital resources in African American, Latino, Native American and other households by using federal COVID relief funds to provide students with computers. free laptops and internet access. At the same time, college leaders have found that we need to anticipate and adapt effectively to rapidly evolving demographic, educational, economic and cultural changes by becoming more innovative and entrepreneurial at all levels.
I love the last line of a poem about the pandemic published by retired teacher Kitty O’Meara in 2020: “And when the danger passed, and the people came together again, they mourned their losses and made new choices, dreamed new dreams, and created new ways…” Based on lessons learned during the pandemic, community college leaders are now “making new choices, dreaming new dreams, and creating new ways “. We mourn our losses and reframe the very nature of our institutions. We are learning to see our colleges through different frameworks or lenses more suited to the new realities brought on by COVID, related health and economic crises, and the national social toll. This reframing of our perspective involves seeing equity as an overriding imperative. This means becoming truly student-centred, more innovative and entrepreneurial, more collaborative both within the college and with community partners, and using technology as a force for institutional transformation.
As we reframe based on our COVID-19 experiences, we are building on the solid foundations of the national community college movement’s proven open door philosophy. The Open Door is not an admissions policy or a specific program, but the institutional soul of “Democracy Colleges”. It is a compendium of the democratic and egalitarian principles that guide our decisions and actions on a daily basis. The pioneers of the movement envisioned a liberating role in the lives of those who might otherwise be disenfranchised and disconnected from the mainstream. Now, the current generation of leaders is called upon to renew this unwavering commitment to the Open Door philosophy as we adapt to new educational and societal realities and build the equity-focused community college of the future. If community colleges fail to provide such leadership in creating a multiracial democracy, they lose their irreplaceable value to society.
I have a soft spot for students who have overcome financial, educational, and other life obstacles to achieve their academic and career goals. I often think of African American women from low-income backgrounds who bravely and successfully combine the roles of single mother, student, and breadwinner even during the pandemic. Meet the students of Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD), and they motivate me as Chancellor to view every improvement effort through an equity lens. Based on lessons learned during the pandemic, WCCCD places the highest priority on removing all personal, academic, and societal barriers so that every student has the opportunities and resources to succeed and thrive. Actions include our Equity-Focused Student Success Strategy and our Reinventing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative.
Due to the devastation caused by the COVID pandemic, I took a personalized look at the changing role of community college leaders who are moving beyond traditional educational functions to serve as champions of social progress. Urban Voices: Racial Justice and Community College Leadership – African American CEOs of Urban Community Colleges Speak Out (Ivery & McPhail, in press, 2022) brings together many of these perspectives and will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in July. The book primarily focuses on the imperative to merge racial equity and community leadership strategies with the passion of civil rights activism.
The future of community college is deeply tied to the future of these disenfranchised and impoverished groups who live in the shadows of our cities, suburbs and rural areas. For them, the community college is the primary – and often the only – gateway to mainstream economics and social justice. I am so proud of my colleagues who act publicly, shamelessly and courageously within their colleges and the communities they serve. As strong advocates for social justice, they partner with other organizations to proactively dismantle policies that perpetuate disparities in areas such as wealth, income, education, employability and employment. economic opportunities.
A keen observer of the American condition, my friend Cornel West declares in the preface to Urban Voices that the transcendent power of community colleges is essential to the next phase of the democratization of higher education. Indeed, as racial and ethnic minorities become the new majority, I cannot imagine any other time in our history when our open-door philosophy and our equity-focused commitments have been more vital to the success of our nation.
Dr. Curtis L. Ivery is District Chancellor of Wayne County Community College (Mich.).
The Center Roueche Forum is co-edited by Drs. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Kansas State University.