“We have responsibility as leaders to take this moment and do something with it,” said Southside Virginia Community College President Quentin Johnson.
Dr. Johnson, acknowledges that anger among Black Americans was galvanized by the widely shared video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day. But Johnson points out Floyd’s death was only the latest in a long line of injustices inflicted on African-Americans.
“I remember the horrible death of Emmet Till in 1955,” said Johnson, during the first of several special events intended to build understanding and support for institutional change at Virginia’s Community Colleges.
Johnson and other panelists argued lip-service is insufficient if our colleges really want to live up to our oft-stated commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Till was just 14 when he was lynched in Mississippi after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. His brutal murder – and the fact that his killers were acquitted – was part of a pattern of racial murders in the U.S. stretching over decades.
“Is there any wonder that there’s distrust among people of color that the country will address Floyd’s murder with fairness?” Johnson asked.
Other panelists also offered their views during the August 13 recorded panel. (A link below offers more on the recording.)
“I think for the first time, white people and people in the business of lifting up society are finally realizing that our idea of true equity for people of color is not adequate,” said Germanna Community College President Janet Gullickson.
“We’ve focused a lot on access, but not on success. I think we have to honestly address questions about our own institutional prejudices and be willing to ‘blow up’ some of our ways of thinking. This is a white person problem; we have to get in and solve it.” Added Dr. Gullickson.
“The convergence of events has made this time explosive in so many ways in the Richmond area, said Reynolds Community College President Paula Pando. “The unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic has hit communities of color disproportionately. We have a racial wakening in this country that has been followed by civil unrest. Hyper-partisan political campaign has only intensified the tension.
“People in power still are saying “just be patient” and that just won’t work. We’ve never dealt with the cancer of systemic racism in this country,” added Dr. Pando.
“We have to remember that, as open-access colleges, we are inviting students who come to us who labor under multiple layers of disadvantage and discrimination,” noted Leonda Williams Keniston, Dean, Humanities, Fine Arts, and Social Sciences at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
“Our administrators, staff and faculty have an obligation to shift our perspective and change our policies and procedures to help students achieve success. We have to take a hard look at ourselves to ensure more equity for all our students.”
Charles Errico, history professor at Northern Virginia Community College and chairman of the Chancellor’s Faculty Advisory Committee said, “I think we’re living in one of the most challenging periods of our history. We have not dealt successfully with the coronavirus pandemic or our racial problems because we’re a divided nation.”
“Our community college campuses must be a safe haven for students and help them recognize their potential. That’s difficult in this time of COVID-19, and I think many of us just can’t wait to get back into the classroom. We need each other to heal our wounds,” added Errico.
The hour-long panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Alvin Schexnider, former interim president at Thomas Nelson Community College.
The August 13 panel discussion kicked off “Razing our Monument: Race to Equity.” A second panel will follow on September 16.
The discussions are available to all VCCS personnel. They are intended to educate and inspire conversation and action on issues pertaining to race, gender and ethnic equity.
The goal is to build capacity for our community colleges to engage their campuses and communities in conversation, increase sensitivity to policy barriers and guide the development of action plans to address inequities across the commonwealth.
To view the August 13 panel discussion, register here