An Inclusive Learning Environment for All: Why is it taking so long?

San Bernardino Valley College

The California Community College (CCC) system has experienced a significant awakening over the past several years. A recognition of the need to do better for our students, faculty, and staff has become clear. The charge to do better is outlined in the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) and Chancellor Oakley’s “Vision for Success,” the CCCCO and Chancellor Oakley’s “Call to Action,” and the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) multiple resolutions addressing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Antiracism, and Accessibility (IDEAA). The “Vision for Success” outlines a vision for change. The vision includes closing student equity gaps, closing student achievement gaps, increasing the number of degrees and certificates earned by students, increasing the transfer rate to UC and CSU campuses, and more. The “Vision for Success” was followed by the “Call to Action” outlining a mobilization plan with six areas of focus. No one can argue the need for, or the value of, the work to be done, nor the load it brings to the faculty body.

Faculty of the CCC system have touch points in nearly all components of IDEAA efforts occurring across the statewide system. The number of touchpoints and the level of involvement by faculty has resulted in an outcry. Sometimes the outcry is that of pure exhaustion due to the heavy lift being carried, often with limited resources. Other times, the outcry is that of concern for not having arrived at the destination despite all the efforts being made. The outcry may also be that of feeling stagnated, as if no movement is occurring. These are common messages heard in many spaces, whether that be in CCCCO webinar sessions or in ASCCC plenary sessions. The fact that IDEAA work is hard, requires a team effort, requires a systemic approach, and requires time, seems to be a common point of agreement. As the faculty body becomes immersed in the journey of IDEAA within the CCC system as a whole or on local college campuses, it is easy to lose sight of the progress being made. Oftentimes, the focus remains on the direction of the future and the destination. Visualizing the work being done by way of an analogy may provide faculty an alternate perspective and a way to understand where the work is heading and why it feels slow, which can be a grounding point to continue the work.

Consider the analogy of a container ship taking a journey across the ocean toward a port. The ocean is vast, the load is heavy, and at times, appears to be too much for the ship to carry. The cargo is varied and specific to the consumer request. The challenges are many and may include stormy seas, unexpected delays, and a need for precise navigation in relatively small spaces. There is an urgency by all to have goods delivered. Anyone with the opportunity to observe container ships coming into any port across the western coast can bear witness to the size of the ships and the slow rate of speed they move. When watching the process of container ships entering port, one may experience a sense of awe when witnessing success.

The container ship can represent the campus system with the task of delivering an inclusive, equitable, and representative education to students. The ocean is the shared space each 116 vessels traverse to deliver the education to students. The containers loaded on the ship may represent the educational content, student success initiatives, student needs, and student success support systems. Other containers contain Guided Pathways for students to follow, equitable online learning student success tools, plans for closing achievement gaps, and solutions for addressing equity gaps. The goods are valuable and precious, as well as greatly needed. The ships are headed to port where the students anxiously await the goods that will provide them the gift of betterment, whether that be in the form of a job promotion, the completion of a certificate or degree, personal lifelong learning, or a transfer to the UC or CSU system to further their education. The student body knows the shipment is arriving, and they anxiously await. Students can imagine the improvements to access that they will experience with the arrival of the goods. They look forward to a more representative faculty body, decreased financial burden of textbooks with Zero Textbook Cost degree options, and decreased degree completion times with the expansion of course offerings in the online format.

If the destination is known and there are maps to follow and specific directions given, why is it taking so long? CCCCO “Vision for Success” provided directives resulting in a need to review the ships’ course and a need to redirect. The “Call to Action” provided further direction, and, for many, further correction. For some ships, the correction may have been small, but for others a complete 180-degree turn may have been required. Container ships are not speed boats running a short river course with the ability to run a slalom course and turn at a moment’s notice. Container ships are large, carry heavy loads, and require time, space, and a team to make the necessary turns. When navigating a container ship, a 180 degree requires multiple steps to be taken and a turn to be completed in incremental steps. Each step requires space and time.

Container ships are navigated by a team and a set of supporting technology tools. With ships of such size, it is impossible for the helmsman to navigate safely and wisely without the support of experienced watch officers. The faculty body of the CCC system are the watch officers. Watch officers communicate with the helmsman turning the wheel of the campus ship to head towards the destination. Faculty provide critical information and keep watch to ensure the ship stays course. The role of the watch officer is around the clock and can be tiring.

The urgency to deliver is tangible and real. Students are desperately seeking equity. The CCCCO is creating tools and calling campuses to action and asking for them to be delivered swiftly. Faculty and campus teams are attempting to deliver quickly while managing the rough seas and challenges of the past few years. Students continue to wait. Due to the size of the ship, the height of the loaded containers, and the speed at which the ship moves, it is easy to feel stagnant and as if nothing is happening. Faculty communicate the hazards of the ocean, the needs of the student body, and the experiences of the faculty body in hopes of making the urgency known. The movement forward, however, does not always reflect the urgency felt by all.

In times of feeling stagnant and as if no movement is happening, a reference point can be helpful to gain perspective. To monitor success, it is helpful not only to look ahead, but to reflect on what is in the rear view and behind. It is difficult to see the incremental movements of the ship, and such slight movement may appear to be insignificant in the moment. However, with a strong sense of reference from where the ship has come and where it is heading, one can begin to see how the incremental movements add up to a full turn over a time. The turn is happening with each adjustment made, each support system set in place for students, with each resolution, and with each action taken to close the equity and achievement gaps. Actions do not stand alone; they are part of a multi-step and incremental process to turn the ship of education.

Faculty, recognize the role played in navigating the waters of life and the delivery of education in an inclusive and equitable manner to the student body. Understand the enormity of the task at hand. Respond to the urgency with involvement and commitment that will ensure a successful delivery outcome. Be realistic about the time it requires to turn the ship in the right direction and make change. No matter how small or large of a turn a campus needs to make, it requires time and space. Remain vigilant and continue to communicate with the helmsman knowing that without your input the ship could not be navigated. Finally, keep reference points handy to measure success and movement. Look at where the ship is directed today and make note of where it should be headed. Take note of the view from the front, back, and sides of the ship. As time passes, refer to the reference points and the views of the past. If the view has changed, then progress has been made. The ship may not have arrived at the destination, but movement of ships this size is cumulative and adds up to progress. Appreciate the magnitude of the work being done and enjoy the journey.