Making Equity the Main Ingredient of California Community Colleges

Credit: Alison Yin/EdSource

From teaching at institutions of higher learning to my current role leading an educational justice organization, one truth has remained clear to me throughout my career: there can be no education without educators. .

The faculty and staff of California Community Colleges proves it daily. Each year, the network of community colleges Hayward Awards recognizes faculty members who demonstrate excellence in student service.

Winsome Jackson, a political science professor at Sierra College for 25 years, is one of three faculty members recently honored. In his remarks, Jackson said, “I encourage more members of the community not to treat fairness as a garnish, but to recognize that it is the main ingredient in everything we do, not just to students but for all employees.”

Jackson’s words couldn’t be more apt. As the largest and most diverse higher education system in the nation, California community colleges have a tremendous opportunity to improve student lives by removing existing barriers to equity.

I know these obstacles all too well, both personally and as the current executive director of The Education Trust–West, an organization that works to improve education in California.

The experience of educators and advocates makes it clear that the opportunity for California community colleges will depend on their ability to fully implement the system’s strategic plan, the Vision for successwhich is underpinned by a core commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

To meet this moment, the system must engage in a set of efforts that provide a roadmap to make campuses safer, more accessible, and more welcoming to students of color and other student groups. underserved. Diversifying faculty and staff and emphasizing equity and inclusion in the classroom environment are essential parts of this work. To research shows that all students benefit from a diverse faculty, staff, and curriculum. A more diverse learning environment supports students’ socio-emotional needs by creating an increased sense of belonging and validation, which leads to greater retention and achievement.

We know that the diversity of faculty and staff has a direct impact on student experience and success, both from student success research and the overwhelming amount of qualitative evidence from students themselves. Leadership and commitment from faculty and staff to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility is essential if California is to move forward with equity as a primary ingredient , not as a garnish.

To meet these commitments, California Community Colleges must integrating diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in faculty and staff evaluation and tenure review processes.

This month, the Community College Board of Governors has an opportunity to embed cultural competency into the assessment and tenure processes of all system leaders. The proposed changes require campus leaders to support faculty and staff with professional development opportunities and ask campuses to work with local collective bargaining partners to embed skills and criteria for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in performance appraisal and tenure review. This framework was carefully developed with input from district, faculty, and college leaders, with particular emphasis on student, faculty, and staff representation.

Over the past few years, we have seen countless examples of institutions saying the right words when it comes to advancing equity, but failing to take concrete steps to match their words with action. With higher education systems across the country looking to California to lead by example, we need to do better.

Making equity more than a garnish means making diversity and inclusion a necessary component of what it means to be a great, effective educator. The proposal submitted to the Board of Trustees supports faculty, staff and students by requiring community college educators to demonstrate these skills while providing them with opportunities to learn and grow. It offers a chance to break down barriers to equity for students and create an inclusive culture on campus and in the classroom where students are more likely to persevere and succeed.


Christopher Nellum is executive director of The Education Trust–Westa statewide research, policy, and advocacy organization that focuses on educational justice and closing achievement and opportunity gaps for underserved students, especially students from communities at low income.

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James C. Tibbs