In June 2020, California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley issued a call to action

By Rachel Perez

Rachel Perez

This past year Gavilan College celebrated its centennial in grand style, taking a look back on our first 100 years with celebrations and events on campus and in the community. The academic year would culminate with our largest graduating class to date, although, due to the pandemic, not the large, outdoor ceremony we had originally planned.

Gavilan College was the eleventh of 117 community colleges in the state of California. The system now serves more than two million students each year and is the largest system of higher education in the world. This system has been making changes to improve outcomes for all students.  Called the Vision for Success, this set of reforms has as its core equity, with changes in the way colleges operate and are funded so that all students are able to complete their course of study faster, take fewer unnecessary units and move out into the workplace or transfer to universities.

This work was underway when the global pandemic struck. The past four months have been particularly challenging as the faculty, staff, students, administrators, and trustees responded. Gavilan College converted more than 600 courses to online format in a four-day period.

The need for Wi-Fi, laptops, hot meals, loans and student support services led to the creation of a drive-through food pantry and laptop lending program, and robust online services.

Then in May 2020 George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, was killed at the hands of a white police officer. The impact of this tragedy was felt immediately, with Americans taking to the streets in most major cities across the nation, and in our own communities, challenging and questioning the death and protesting police brutality, racism and lack of police accountability.

In June 2020, California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley issued a call to action, challenging the entire system to actively strategize and to have an open dialogue about structural racism in our institutions.

Chancellor Oakley pointed out that with more than “69 percent of community college students identifying with one or more ethnic groups — which means that we serve the most diverse student population in all of higher education,” it was time for action against the systemic racial injustices that still exist. He asked us as “equity champions” to examine six key areas:

  • A system wide review of law enforcement officers and first responder training and curriculum.

  • Campus leaders must host open dialogue and address campus climate.

  • Campuses must audit classroom climate and create an action plan to create inclusive classrooms and anti-racism curriculum.

  • District boards review and update your equity plans with urgency.

  • Shorten the time frame for the full implementation of the diversity, equity and inclusion integration plan.

  • Join and engage in the Vision Resource Center “Community Colleges for Change.”

At the Gavilan Board of Trustees meeting in July, Resolution #1056: Affirming our Commitment to Student Success for Black and African American Students was adopted unanimously. With this resolution, we endeavor to foster a culture in which all members of the community feel safe, respected, and valued; where all students are invited to participate fully, and share their unique talents and backgrounds. The heart of the resolution rests with us, as practitioners and policymakers, making decisions that we know can impact educational opportunities for people of color, justice-impacted families and other minority groups.

Gavilan College’s Resolution #1056 reaffirms our commitment to remove systemic barriers for Black and African-American students, and to work collaboratively with our communities to further their educational attainment. In doing so, we strengthen our students, our college, and the diverse communities we serve.

Rachel Perez is the president of the Gavilan College Board of Trustees. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.

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