As demographics continue to shift in Texas, community colleges must adjust their approach to make their programs more inclusive to all people an expert told Alvin Community College instructors during their Fall convocation on August 17.
Dr. Luis Ponjuan discussed the importance of making marginalized communities feel they are part of the college community during his keynote address at the ACC’s first virtual convocation.
“It’s about equity. It’s about justice. It’s about respect,” he said. “It’s critical recognize that we have to make a commitment to that and not just lip service.”
The college hosted a discussion panel and breakout sessions during the week for staff members to share their experiences with making higher education more inclusive.
“We thought it was critical to engage our employees in an important dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion,” ACC President Dr. Christal M. Albrecht said.
Making improvements with diversity, equity and inclusion are also an element of the college’s Strategic Plan.
Faculty and staff members discussed the issue of inclusion in a series of breakout sessions and a discussion panel. They shared ideas about how to embrace diversity on campus, building empathy among students, improving communication and understanding their own perspectives.
“All of us feel positive about diversity and inclusion,” said Saul Olivares, ACC Foreign Languages Chair. “We need to make it a reflection of ourselves through our actions and do something about it.”
Communication is one of the ways to address issues with inclusion. Educators must learn to listen and speak with respect.
“It’s very important that we embrace everybody’s perspective,” English instructor Mary Song said during the staff discussion panel. “My students are most successful when they feel like they’ve been recognized and heard.”
Educators must also develop their classroom curricula with input from instructors with diverse viewpoints.
“We have to be much more collaborative between departments,” said Dr. Ian Baldwin, History instructor.
One obstacle to inclusivity is connecting students to resources. It is important that those in education make students informed about opportunities for scholarships, financial aid and other resources, said Dr. Maria Starling, ACC Speech instructor.
“We need to make sure that information is communicated effectively about those resources,” she said.
Mentorship and student success workshops are additional methods to help students feel connected to the campus and their fellow students while also preparing them for the challenges in the workforce, said Akilah Martin, Director of Career Pathways.
“One of the purposes of higher education is to develop the social skills, the critical thinking skills and the empathy levels of our students,” she said. “It gives our faculty and staff an opportunity to teach students how to have really constructive conversations and how to discuss adversity at a comfortable level and in a respectful way. When students feel a connection, a sense of belonging, it helps them in obtaining their goals.”
Instructors must also consider their approach when dealing with students by asking students what they need for their education rather than telling students what they are required to do, Ponjuan said.
“We need to be ready for students,” he said. “We need to listen and to understand the needs of our students. We need to recognize the intersectional identities of our students. How are you making them feel like they belong?”
Inclusion is something educators must keep at the forefront in order to ensure the opportunity for success for all students, Ponjuan said.
“A college education still matters,” he said. “I want you to be passionate about our promise to care for ACC students.”