Published on 10/20/2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to rethink what we mean by normal. Our world has changed in extraordinary ways. Besides dealing with the effects of COVID-19 in our personal lives, CR’s faculty, staff, and administrators have been grappling with the unprecedented challenges of moving our instruction and student services into a virtual realm. However, although there has been a close focus on the added challenges resulting from the virus, our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has not wavered.
As a nation and as a community college system, the issue of race continues to be one of our most significant concerns. Race can be the cause of implicit and explicit bias and prejudice. Race can also be a source of identify and pride.
We understand that if we are to prepare our students to successfully live and work in a diverse and, unfortunately, often polarized society, we must be honest with them and with ourselves that navigating racial dynamics is an important element of a student’s college education. This issue is so important that the Board of Trustees has embedded the conversation about race into our 2020-21 goals by committing to review the District’s mission, vision, and board policies through a lens that reflects equity and inclusion.
Similarly, two of my goals this year are: 1) to encourage institutional dialogue about what it means to be anti-racist or culturally competent and responsive; and 2) to collaborate with constituent group leadership to engage in discussions about race and inclusivity while cultivating openness, trust, and understanding. In so doing, we will be joining students, educators, politicians, and CEOs all across the country who are grappling with the role that race has historically played in our society.
I understand that some students, faculty and staff are uneasy discussing race or are ill equipped to have effective conversations about it. We show up to conversations about race with different histories, viewpoints, feelings, and information. We are uncomfortable airing our vulnerabilities or knowledge gaps and fear being misjudged or misunderstood.
However, I believe that, done correctly, conversations about race can be effective and energizing. To facilitate these conversations, we will need to overcome one major hurdle: people often have differing, or even inaccurate understandings about what race is and what racism means. One of CR’s faculty members cautioned the Board and me a few months ago that if we are unable to first spend the time to define what we collectively mean when we talk about racism and privilege, we risk creating an environment that makes it impossible for us to listen and trust each other.
To begin that process, College of the Redwoods is partnering with the Equity Alliance of the North Coast to hold several Implicit Bias and Four Dimensions of Racism sessions to facilitate more effective learning experiences and conversations and develop an understanding of race that may help establish common ground, foster a shared vocabulary, and provide an opportunity to improve racial dynamics.
The four Implicit Bias and Four Dimensions of Racism sessions we’re undertaking are just one example of how CR is engaging in the conversation about race in higher education. I plan to bring other, differing viewpoints to the table as well. It is my hope that it we can develop a stronger college community by encouraging everyone – faculty, staff, administrators and, of course, students – to come to the table to talk about these hard issues. I would like to see CR become an example of how to engage in these types of conversations.
There is something John Johnston, Professor of English and Philosophy, said a few months ago that will serve as a guiding principle as CR moves the discussion of race forward:
“We must work together. It is our only option. Fortunately, we’ve proven we can solve tough problems. We’ve done this before. But now more than ever we have to speak very precisely, very carefully. We need to show our students and our community that we understand what is happening (and be honest when we don’t), and we must offer specific solutions. And we can do this only if we speak very precisely and concretely about the problems we’re addressing and how we are addressing them.”
In closing, I want to state very clearly that while we may not always share the same experiences I believe the College of the Redwoods community will unite around a pathway toward openness and equity. As President of CR, I am aware of language at all times, but never more than now.
I hope you will all join us in trying to better understand one another.