An equitable system requires that students get what they need, when they need it. As Herbert Kohl stated, “Young people don’t care what you know until they know you care” (Easton-Brooks, 2019, p.45). Decades of research have shown that faculty, staff, and administrators must be armored with the practices to engage students in the classroom and outside of the classroom in meaningful ways. Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade (2020) articulates the three most effective practices:
- Relationships: understanding, proximity, caring, and empathy of faculty for students.
- Relevance: culturally relevant and community responsive content to incorporate into andragogy.
- Responsibility: support needed for faculty, others, and the system to achieve self-actualization.
The interplay of these practices must center faculty to do better in engaging students in the equity movement on campus and in the development and implementation of each college’s Student Equity and Achievement Plan.
In an evaluation of the barriers that exist for community college students that are disproportionally impacted in areas of achievement and success measures, the voice of those impacted students is essential. While data clearly indicates that gaps exist, the students who are falling into those gaps can provide the clearest perspective of the barriers they face. One of the most efficient ways to serve students is to ask them what they need, both in resources and mentoring support.
The nature of the community college can create challenges in finding and sustaining informed student voices to participate in planning and evaluation that occurs over years. Student leadership must be encouraged and nurtured so that students can speak to the holistic community college student experience, but often students who step into roles of leadership and participation are nearing the end of their time at the community college. Local academic senates can lead in identifying students who are willing to participate in institutional planning and creating and maintaining a validating space for the student voice.
The connections with students should begin from the moment they apply to the college. Institutions should consider what their outreach looks like as well as the ways in which they are organized to build and sustain a community of learning, care, and resources for each student enrolled. The college outreach program becomes the instrument for early engagement of students.
The following suggestions offer good practices for connecting with students involved on the campus:
- Student Government: The student government is a constituency on community college campuses and is granted “effective participation” opportunities in developing the recommendations to leadership on policies and procedures that have or will have “significant effect on students” as enumerated in Title 5 §51023.7 4b. Local academic senates can work to create collaboration with the student government body by establishing a standing agenda item related to updates and reports from students.
- Student Academic Clubs and Honor Societies: California community college academic clubs and honor societies, such as Alpha Gamma Sigma, promote academic success and service to and within their communities. Students who participate in campus clubs gain access to development opportunities that will benefit their career pathways as well as provide them with personal, social, and community service and enhance their overall college experience (Chen, 2019). Faculty support through club advising is critical in providing these types of opportunities for students.
- Student Focus Groups: Academic senates can connect with student resource programs that serve disproportionately impacted student populations on campus, such as EOPS, Puente, and Umoja programs, to identify students with lived experiences that can provide qualitative data that corresponds with quantitative campus data from the Student Equity and Achievement Plan.
In addition, local academic senates can create and maintain a space for the voice of the students. The following best practices may be helpful in achieving this goal:
- Agendize an update or report from student government as a standing item at academic senate meetings.
- Coordinate with student government leadership to ensure that student participation in committee work does not conflict with class attendance.
- Create a space that is validating to student voices in order to promote effective student participation.
- Keep the student body informed about the significance of work as a campus effort to promote engagement by students.
- Include students in the annual evaluation of the Student Equity and Achievement Plan in an intentional way that considers the students’ perspectives on the closing of achievement gaps.
Creating opportunities for the success of students and their engagement in an equity - driven system is a primary professional responsibility. The actualization of Student Equity and Achievement Plans depends on the involvement and engagement of those most impacted, the students.
Chen, G. (2019, December 27). The Benefits of Community College Clubs. Community College Review. Retrieved from the Community College review website: https://www.communitycollegereview.com/blog/the-benefits-of-community-c….
Duncan-Andrade, J. (2020). Equality or Equity: Which One Will We Feed? Presentation at the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges Advocacy and Policy Conference.
Easton-Brooks, D. (2019). Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.