Do Black lives really matter at the college? The answer depends upon whom you ask.
“Yes, Black lives matter,” President Andy Bowne said. “Let’s separate it from the organization and let’s talk about, do Black lives matter? My goodness, yes. Black lives matter.”
However, at least one JCCC student disagrees that Black lives matter at the college.
“As much as I want to say ‘yes,’ unfortunately, I’m going to have to say ‘no,’” Solomon Webb, a member of the Black Student Union, said.
Webb believes that the overwhelmingly right-leaning political climate of the Johnson County area informs attitudes at the school.
“It kind of saddens me to see that Johnson County really doesn’t care much about diversity and for African-Americans, Webb said.”[Text Wrapping Break]
Black Student Union advisor, Catherine Schrag, believes the answer is more nuanced.
“I would say that there are many, many people who are at JCCC who are very much in support of Black Lives Matter and who are advocates and allies and their heart is the right place and they get it, they’re ‘woke,’” Schrag said. “And, you have another group who [says], ‘I don’t want to hear about it. It’s not my problem. We’ve already been through that. Get over it. Move on.” So, I think it’s easy to just disengage from the issues that might affect Black students in their classrooms after they leave.”
The recent JCCC Diversity, Equity and Inclusions survey may provide greater insight into the attitudes and beliefs of JCCC students, faculty and staff.
According to Tonia Hughes, co-leader of the JCCC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce, the survey was conducted Sept. 14-30 by a third-party vendor in order to make sure it was done objectively.
“The hope is that… we’ll be getting some really good, solid, objective feedback about what that survey means and then how we can best, at Johnson County Community College, serve our students and our community,” Hughes said.
Across the state line, Metropolitan Community College is engaged in similar college-wide conversations and data analysis.
Last month, according to Chocoletta Simpson, executive director for the Office of Institutional Equity and Inclusion at MCC, there was a summit to review enrollment data and isolate trends, including changes in the racial makeup of the school.
“This year’s focus was on our students of color, and more particularly our male students of color,” Simpson said. “What can we do differently? Are there barriers? Are we asking our students why they are leaving? That was actually a big part of my conversation.”
Simpson, whose office is also responsible for diversity compliance, is proud of the climate surveys conducted at the MCC schools as well as the college-wide equity assessment which helps them gain a greater perspective of the similarities and difference in their five schools in the Kansas City, Missouri area. This enables them to address issues quickly and effectively.
“If you’re feeling that you are being discriminated against or treated differently, while on our campus, while in the classroom, the virtual environment, whatever it is; there are internal processes and procedures that you can pursue,” Simpson said.
Simpson believes it is important for colleges to directly address the recent nationwide racial unrest because it directly affects their students.
“Almost every institution that I know released a statement from, usually the president or the chancellor, to kind of talk about how they support equity and inclusion efforts,” Simpson said. “I think, internally, it’s very important for institutions to make known to their students where they can have that support in addition to counseling, because it is a mental strain.”
While individual members of faculty and staff have publicly said that Black lives matter, JCCC has not done so, officially. “I want to have good context for the college to be able to make a statement,” Bowne said. “I was thinking that [former] President [Dr. Joe] Sopcich, on behalf of the college had made a statement in the spring. Again, that was my impression. I don’t know that factually that’s true.”
Tai Edwards, co-leader of the JCCC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce believes that JCCC should be more intentional about having these uncomfortable conversations.
“Just because a student lives or goes to school in Johnson County does not mean they’re not impacted by these other things. It doesn’t mean they’re not attending other things in Kansas City,” Edwards said. “It almost feels like that kind of excuse is a little bit white, suburban cop-out. None of us live in this world without this news impacting us, even if we aren’t physically at a specific protest.”
While the results of the survey are unknown, Edwards hopes the school will be able to build upon the forthcoming feedback and create a dedicated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office to act as a resource for students, faculty and staff with regard to best practices.
“Candidly, I’m waiting for the survey,” Bowne said. “For me to say that there is going to be a chief diversity officer that’s going to report directly to ‘fill-in-the-blank,’ I’m not there yet, because I think we’ve got to see what the survey tells us and then think through what that means from a structural and support standpoint.”
Even without an official Diversity, Equity and Inclusions office, Mickey McCloud, vice president of Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer at JCCC said his goal is to foster an environment where it is understood that Black lives matter, but also where dissenting voices can be heard and respected.
“If, as a learning institution, you are not a place where people can really explore their thoughts and understandings of the world, even when those sometimes get messy or difficult, then we will have failed as an institution of higher learning,” McCloud said.
By Jonathan Bell