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Facing Ourselves, Engaging Our Students: Equity-Minded Practices at Work
For the past few years, Lansing Community College (LCC) has been engaged in a comprehensive, transformative initiative called “Operation 100%,” whose goal is 100 percent completion for students in certificate, degree, and transfer pathways. Realizing that we cannot reach this goal if we do not close equity gaps in student success, we enthusiastically embarked on our Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Our touchstone metric is that no student be left out or left behind as we close equity gaps and deliver quality educational experiences.
The LCC Equity Project
Our project goal is to close the equity gap by 5 percent for African American males and females, as well as for Latinas and Latinos. Long term, we plan to use lessons learned as we continue our journey toward the goal we share with the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project—100 percent completion through 100 percent inclusion. To create a sustainable structural and conceptual framework, we are using a project logic model for our planning and assessment purposes, and we are ensuring direct faculty and staff input and engagement. Further, we have strategically aligned and integrated the equity project with other college initiatives—for example, our work strengthening gateway courses with high DFWI rates—and with the college’s overall mission. In addition, in line with equity-minded practices, our project steering committee engages adjunct faculty in key aspects of the work. Though such deliberate intentionality takes time and resources, it has resulted in much goodwill and participator engagement.
Our equity project contains several components—for instance, a focus on the intersectionality of poverty and race, the redesigning of developmental education to address the disparate impacts on underserved students, and the inclusion of equity-related student learning outcomes in general education courses and guided program pathways. For the purposes of this article, we will highlight two challenging, but also necessary and promising, practices that we have adopted: ongoing implicit bias awareness training and the development of Faculty Institutes, which focus on student engagement.
Recognizing that no one can escape being affected by discriminatory or otherwise prejudicial cultural attitudes and practices, we are concerned that we might unintentionally undermine our efforts to close equity gaps if we do not honestly address our own implicit biases. To this end, we hired a consultant from Project Implicit to hold “train the trainer” sessions. Our chief diversity officer is continuing this training with faculty, and our provost is continuing it with staff. Assisting the chief diversity officer are three lead faculty, one of whom, a biology faculty member already involved with our efforts to improve success rates for our gateways courses, helped us to understand a particular complexity of closing equity gaps: that many underserved students never enroll in our college-level biology classes. This revelation has led not only to implicit bias awareness training for science faculty, but also to preliminary work to develop a pipeline of underserved K–12 students who could enroll in our biology classes. To this end, LCC and high school science teachers are working on developing pedagogical approaches to engage students in STEM pathways.
For all faculty engaged in implicit bias awareness training, the ultimate goal is to develop relevant activities (such as the revision of syllabi language and content and the development of content material for K–12 teachers) that they can use to counter the influence of implicit bias in the classroom. Focusing on understanding how their knowledge of and pedagogical approaches to dealing with their own implicit biases connect directly to ameliorating problems of inequity in their classrooms, faculty ask themselves the following question: “How do we help all students engage, contribute, and feel a sense of inclusion and belonging?” Although engendering and sustaining faculty engagement in this work has been challenging at times, we have attenuated this problem by involving faculty who have already been engaged in similar work.
Staff leaders are assisting the Provost with his implicit bias awareness training for front-line staff. Participation is strong and consistent, and the preliminary results are promising. Using strategies learned in the training, staff are rethinking intake and customer service processes, are paying close attention to their implicit biases regarding age and disabilities, and have requested training to help them be more aware of students’ mental health difficulties. The key grounding question for staff is, “How do we create practical steps to keep implicit biases in check during everyday encounters with students?” In addition, this work sends the message that every employee at the college is valued as both an educator and a leader. Indeed, we are finding that many employees at the college are eager to help all students succeed; they just need to be invited to be agents in this important work.
Given the importance of meaningful faculty and student engagement to closing equity gaps, we created Faculty Institutes based on the work of Paul Hernandez, LCC’s chief diversity officer and the author of The Pedagogy of Real Talk (2016). We began with a summer Faculty Institute cohort of thirteen full-time and adjunct faculty members from accounting and history, two high-enrollment gateway course areas in which underserved students were disparately affected with high DFWI rates. Faculty Institute participants created two activities to implement in their classrooms: “Real Talks,” which are conversations by faculty intended to engage students in a meaningful, relevant, and authentic manner, and “Alternative Lessons,” which make course content relevant and engaging. This work has produced promising results already, and faculty who participated in the Faculty Institutes have remained energetically committed to continuing the process.
We are moving in a deliberate manner by creating faculty cohorts and helping them develop additional skill sets based on lessons we learned during the first year of the Faculty Institutes. Eventually scaling up this effort, we will identify faculty who have the potential to become trainers so that we can institutionalize our equity-related student success work.
As we engage in this important work, we remind ourselves to be patient, since we know that we are addressing decades of inequities among the college’s underserved students. Guided by Martin Luther King Jr.’s wise reminder that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but [that] it bends towards justice,” we are working to create a campus environment that honors, celebrates, and gives rise to multiple voices. We are weaving sustainable and equity-minded attitudes, behaviors, and actions into the fabric of our institution so that, eventually, we will no longer need an “equity project.” Our everyday efforts will already be models of equity-minded practices.
Hernandez, Paul. 2016. The Pedagogy of Real Talk: Engaging, Teaching, and Connecting with Students at Risk. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin, A Sage Company.
Richard J. Prystowsky, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs; and Anne M. Heutsche, Professor of History, both of Lansing Community College