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Dr. Raina Dyer-Barr, a project coordinator at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership, writes about how OCCRL fellows from selected community colleges support underrepresented, racially minoritized students.

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Published by Office of Community College Research and Leadership, 2019-10-04 13:54:47

How Equity Exemplars Support Racially Minoritized Students at Community Colleges

Dr. Raina Dyer-Barr, a project coordinator at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership, writes about how OCCRL fellows from selected community colleges support underrepresented, racially minoritized students.

Keywords: Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellows,OCCRL equity exemplars,supporting racially minoritized students at community colleges,Raina Dyer-Barr,OCCRL,Office of Community College Research and Leadership,Fall 2019 UPDATE issue,Equity Conscious Community College Pathways

UPDATE - FALL 2019

ENGAGING EXCELLENCE IN EQUITY FELLOWS:

How Equity Exemplars Support Racially Minoritized Students at Community Colleges

by Raina Dyer-Barr, PhD
OCCRL Project Coordinator

One component of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership’s (OCCRL) Equity Conscious Community College
Pathways (EC3P) project (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) is its Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellowship. In
the Fall of 2018, OCCRL identified 100 community colleges via an analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS)
and National Center for Educational Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data as equity exemplars in that
they served one or more racially minoritized group exceptionally well with respect to enrollment and associate degree completion rates. The
purpose of this process of identifying these community colleges was to subsequently invite a subgroup of institutions to nominate up to two
education professionals to become Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellows.
Nominations were restricted to practitioners in either leadership and supervisory roles (i.e., administrators) who were responsible for
implementing policies that foster equitable outcomes for racially minoritized students or those in direct service roles (i.e., faculty and
staff) who utilized culturally responsive practices to support racially minoritized students from enrollment through completion. Selected
fellows would then participate in three two-day convenings (April, June, and August) in which they would work collaboratively as subject-
matter experts to contribute to the knowledge base of the best culturally responsive practices to serve and support underrepresented, racially
minoritized students at community colleges. In addition, fellows would be charged with developing a virtual Embedding Equity Toolkit
comprised of these best practices, as well as strategies for navigating barriers and challenges to equity-minded policies and practices specific
to the community college context.
After an extensive nomination and selection process, OCCRL announced its inaugural cohort of 18 Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellows in
February 2019. The cohort of fellows was very diverse with respect to gender (eight males, 10 females), race/ethnicity (eight African Americans,
seven Caucasians, two Latinos, and one Asian/Pacific Islander), geography (fellows hailed from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio,
Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, North Carolina, Louisiana, California, Utah, and Washington), and institutional roles (13 administrators, two
student affairs practitioners, and three faculty members). While the cohort was diverse, its members had one important thing in common:
their demonstrated commitment to supporting underrepresented, racially minoritized students with the goal of fostering equity at their
campuses.
The Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellows participated in three convenings held in Chicago in April, June, and August of 2019. The first meeting
was not only an opportunity to begin the foundational work necessary for developing the Embedding Equity Toolkit, but it was also a chance
for the fellows to get to know one another. Fellows reflected on their roles and shared their experiences, motivations, challenges, and strategies
for navigating obstacles in their efforts to support racially minoritized students in an equity-minded manner. Several important themes emerged


UPDATE - FALL 2019

from the activities and in-depth “I am an advocate for “I thought about why in”—was critical to serving this
conversations fellows engaged in these students. I listen to I believe I’m successful population of students well and
during the first convening. their stories and ensure in supporting...racially in an equitable manner.
First, culturally responsive their voices are heard. I minoritized students. Fellows who felt their
practices were foundational use my experience, data, And I feel like it begins institutions were committed to
to the fellows’ success in research, and compassion with my upbringing in supporting racially minoritized
supporting underrepresented, to make changes to policies Kansas City...Now I’m in students described institutional
racially minoritized students. and practices that create California and because I leadership that readily and
Culturally responsive practices barriers for students of am Mexican people assume consistently provided funding
are often considered the domain color and other minoritized that I’m able to connect and other resources like space
of teachers, instructors, and populations” with those [Mexican] and equipment for programs
faculty mainly due to their students...But I often and initiatives targeted toward
origins in culturally responsive - Aubria Nance, Engaging tell people, ‘I don’t speak these students. Additionally,
pedagogy as introduced by Excellence in Equity Fellow Spanish. I didn’t grow up these institutions not only had
Gloria Ladson-Billings nearly A second theme that emerged the way these folks grew clear strategic goals and plans
25 years ago as a way of teaching highlighted the striking up. I’m really culturally in place that articulated their
that intentionally centers the similarities in the motivations different in a lot of ways commitment to equity and
cultures and experiences of for why the fellows were doing than these people.” But diversity, but also leadership
groups that have traditionally the work they were doing— I feel like my ability to that actively demonstrated the
been excluded. However, serving and supporting racialized empathize and to try to same commitment.
these equity exemplars utilized minorities at community college engage with them on a
culturally responsive practices campuses. In describing how personal level has always “The biggest support to
seemingly intuitively, so much they came to be doing this work, helped me in supporting [my] success has been
so that most of them did not most of the fellows expressed an students.” the administration/
necessarily even use those specific affinity for working with this leadership of our
terms to describe their practices. particular population because of - Joseph Alonzo, Engaging institution which
Nevertheless, the descriptions of similar personal backgrounds— Excellence in Equity Fellow also values our efforts
their practices aligned with what racially/ethnically, culturally, A third notable theme that to support racially
are typically termed culturally or economically. Fellows emerged from the fellows’ in- minoritized students. We
responsive practices. Specifically, frequently mentioned that they depth conversations was their have gotten resources—
the fellows described the various empathized with these students repeated references to the role of financial, personnel, and
ways that they supported the because they had experienced their institutions in helping them spatial—to pilot new
development of their students’ similar circumstances of being support racially minoritized projects in an effort to
cultural and ethnic identities on a racially minoritized student, students. They generally improve success metrics.”
campus and in the classroom, a low-income student, or a discussed this role in one of
and how they worked to ensure first-generation college student. two ways: 1) they either raved - Sarah Wolfe, Engaging
that students felt the experiences Fellows were motivated by about the institutional support Excellence in Equity Fellow
and knowledge they brought to trying to help these students they received to do their specific Conversely, fellows who
campus with them were valid, navigate the institution and jobs well or 2) they described described a lack of institutional
important, and useful for their the challenges and barriers how the lack of institutional support often referred to an
educational success. that students from racially support negatively impacted unwillingness by leadership
minoritized groups often face— their ability to do their job well. to adequately acknowledge or
and some of the same ones they Whichever camp the fellows address the specific concerns
themselves encountered during aligned with, what was readily and needs of racially minoritized
their academic journey. apparent was that institutional groups. Fellows described how
support—which they mostly this nonchalant attitude at the
referred to as “institutional buy-


UPDATE - FALL 2019

top often affected the campus Raina Dyer-Barr, PhD
and made it difficult for them can be reached at
to collaborate with other [email protected]
campus members—especially
faculty—to best serve these
students. Nonetheless, these
fellows appeared to use the
lack of institutional buy-in as
motivation to continuously
push their institutions towards
making changes to policies and
practices so that they were more
equitable for racially minoritized
students.
“Some of the orthodoxies
that a handful of our
faculty and/or staff have
sometimes makes it
difficult to do this work.
For example, the idea that
it is wrong to focus on a
single student population,
or the misconception that
we are engaging in “reverse
racism” through our work.
Some departments tend to
be territorial and can be
hard to collaborate with
when it comes to working
as a team to change the
culture of our institution
and becom[ing] a more
inclusive college.”

- Richard Diaz, Engaging
Excellence in Equity Fellow
Ultimately, the amount of simi-
larities in the fellows’ experienc-
es, strategies, and motivations
in their work with underrep-
resented, racially minoritized
students was a pleasant sur-
prise. Their stories also served
as confirmation that this cohort
was the perfect group to serve
as content experts in the future
development of the Embedding
Equity Toolkit. Their specific
knowledge, expertise, and com-
mitment is precisely what is nec-
essary to build an effective and
useful toolkit comprised of cul-
turally responsive tools aimed at
supporting successful and equi-
table educational outcomes for
underserved racially minoritized
students at community colleges.
The Embedding Equity Toolkit
will be released in early 2020.


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