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Community college presidents aim to address ‘tremendous racial inequities’ on campuses

Students walk between classes at Los Angeles City College
Students walk between classes at Los Angeles City College
(Los Angeles Times)

The presidents of 60 California community colleges have formed an alliance that aims to combat racism and educational inequities on campuses where the majority are students of color.

The move follows mass protests triggered by the death of George Floyd, which have prompted calls for institutions around the country to take a hard look at issues of racism and racial inequity within their own walls.

The newly formed California Community College Equity Leadership Alliance will work with the USC Race and Equity Center to train college representatives on topics like hiring and retaining faculty of color, fostering inclusive classrooms and integrating race across the curriculum. The members will also have access to online tools like case studies and readings on racial equity and will participate in campus surveys to assess how students, faculty and staff feel about their campus climate when it comes to issues of inclusion and diversity.

Shaun R. Harper, executive director of the USC Race and Equity Center, said students and faculty of color have been pushing community colleges to commit to specific steps to address persistent inequities on campus. Those calls grew more urgent as protests swept the country.

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“There are tremendous racial inequities on the California community college campuses,” Harper said. “You have a mostly white faculty teaching a mostly Latino, Black, Asian and Pacific Islander population. Therefore the curriculum tends to not be reflective of those students’ cultural histories and identities and interests.”

The schools, like other institutions of higher education, also often have a stratified workforce, he said.

“Most Black and Latino employees work in food service, grounds keeping, or low-paid secretarial roles,” Harper said. “If you are a Black student at one of these community colleges and the only Black employees you really see are custodial workers or food service workers, it conveys to you quite powerfully how Black people are positioned at the institution.”

The schools will pay $25,000 per year to participate in the alliance, Harper said.

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Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, which is part of the alliance, said that in recent days he’s heard very personal and often painful stories from students and faculty about the impact of racial inequity on their lives, including on campus. Students and staff have pushed for a more inclusive curriculum as well as stronger efforts to diversify hiring.

About 85% of the student body at LACCD is made up of people of color, while only about 40-45% of faculty are, Rodriguez said.

“We’ve made good progress in the last couple years,” he said. But, “we’ve not made enough progress.”

Now there’s an urgency for institutions around the country to respond, he said.

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“We need to do more than reflect,” he said. “We need to act and finally once and for all root out racism and racist policies and practices in higher education and I’m committed to do that at LACCD.”


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