Overcoming activist burnout and finding common ground are contributing barriers on why it is so challenging to have conversations about race and education. With the exception of survival Zoom calls, educators have been working in silos and have been isolated from meaningful working relationships. Admittedly, some faculty had established collegial relationships before the pandemic occurred that were maintained. But for those navigating adjunct life or the tenure process during remote instruction, trust and support among contemporaries has been rare. It makes sense that while being bombarded by media misinformation about educational equity policies and being sequestered in our classrooms mistrust has festered for some. This skepticism and hostility has resulted in some teachers suing their district, filing complaints against fellow colleagues, and regularly complaining to media about race politics of the workplace. This is a plea to all California Community College senators to engage in meaningful conversations on race and equity; as education leaders, we need to find common ground on issues of antiracism for the sake of our students and our future.
ACKNOWLEDGING RACIAL TRAUMA
Higher education has been lauded throughout history as a place for freedom of thought; access to knowledge, however, was not always open to those seen as lesser such as Black, Brown, Indigenous people of color (which depending on era or geography has varied). During the 20th century, America began to crack open the doors to colleges for all people, but professional gatekeeping was at odds with government policies that sought to provide equal access to all. My ancestors and aunties were not able to gain access to the public education that has allowed me to occupy the spaces that matter.
It has been acknowledged and affirmed at the state and federal level that trauma and negative racial experiences for our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) students are more pronounced in educational contexts. BIPOC students also experience intergenerational trauma related to education which can be harder to overcome. My college recently reported to its academic senate the result of the racial climate survey4 that reaffirmed many things, one of which is that some of our Black students do not feel safe on campus. Black students in the community are still grappling with the impacts of integration and simultaneously situations like what occurred at a local high school, when a Black student was assaulted by campus police and referred to by the hard R racial slur. Saying our students need a welcoming racial climate is not about finger pointing at specific faculty but opening a welcoming door of opportunity and access to every single person who wants to better their life.
Some college senators have argued that any special programs or policies should also be extended to conservative students and faculty. It is notable that self-selected groups that relate to political and religious ideologies do not experience trauma in same way, at least intergenerationally, anywhere near the same scope as our students of color. Political groups already have protections under the first amendment and though the fourteenth amendment protects equal access to education, it does not prohibit structural barriers for Black and Brown students or in any way mitigate gatekeeping or gaslighting by those that do not understand the trauma BIPOC students have experienced. If conservatives have recently experienced mistreatment in our community colleges, we should be having that conversation too. However, the palpable fear is real and justified for Black men in Kern County and throughout California communities, and we must remember that when we welcome those students to our college campuses.
MODELING COMMUNICATION IN RACISM AND EQUITY CONVERSATIONS
Academic freedom and first amendment rights should never be wielded as a weapon against coworkers to make their professional or personal lives unsafe or hostile. Social media spaces like TikTok and Facebook allow educators to express opinions and find support when they feel school policies challenge their political beliefs. Social media is not always the ideal platform for professional dialogue on higher education policies. Just before the pandemic, I was the target of vilification by a fellow colleague for being too progressive, I received a series of online threats of harm to myself and my teenage daughter: I know the author of the initial posts would never wish myself or my family harm, but their followers’ behavior was less civilized. This awful experience brings into focus that both conservative and progressive faculty are role models. Public colleges should continue to be a mainstay for critical thinking and communication, and as public employees we have a sacred role in engaging our students, community, and coworkers with respect. When faculty exhibit exclusionary, petty, or unkind behavior in the classroom or on college related media, they send cues to those that look up to faculty that such behavior is an appropriate way to communicate—it is not.
Words matter. Scholars understand that new concepts are frequently coined to better understand the world and that they should be careful with the language chosen when interacting. It is difficult to not take offense when conversations about race policies become reductive and offensive; it does not help the California Community College system move forward to label all our conservative coworkers as “racists.” Similarly, there will not be agreement if all race and equity solutions are denied as “Cultural Marxism.” Public education is at a crossroads on many fronts and it hinders progress to dismiss fellow educators rather than engage their arguments.
Conversely, as discussions about pronouns, intersectionality, and emerging terminology are proposed, established scholarship should be considered rather than clinging to outdated terminology that fits within one’s worldview. For example, many of the Mexican boomers in my family do not refer to themselves as POC (People of Color), but as a scholar I understand that term is not about ancestry but used to refer collectively to the way people are socially coded, most often based on appearance. BIPOC and POC are appropriate to frame race discussion in higher education when the aim is to hedge against normative constructions of identity. People can be politically conservative and racially diverse and 00091383.2020.1732775likewise we can help different groups of students while simultaneously acknowledging racism exists.
Admittedly, this analysis does not represent the totality of viewpoints expressed by conservative colleagues on issues of race and equity. When I employ the term conservative, I do not mean to conflate moderate republicans with far-right Q-Anon adopters. Furthermore, I do not intend to imply that people abandon their politics to maintain their seat at the table. The professional expertise and confidence required to be successful in academia does in some instances allow colleges to be havens for Narcissists. A bright line must be established for how much the political beliefs of college staff are weighed against the wellbeing and education of our students and fellow coworkers; the simple start is acknowledgement of the existence of structural and historical racism in public education.
The legacy of our academic senate should be one where California community colleges provide academic and workforce training for anyone, not a place where faculty make it about their own political beliefs. Our system has established programs that aim to provide targeted advising and assistance to former foster youth, veterans and their families, unhoused students, and those financially disadvantaged. When we identify a community struggling to access higher education, we attempt solutions, and it stands to reason, that programs and professional development should exist to help colleges better serve BIPOC students. It is not a zero-sum game, and our districts can learn about race and equity while still providing support to other students’ needs. Public higher education will not survive if we continue to parrot political talking points instead of talking to one another about solutions. Instead of lawsuits and targeted social media attacks, let’s embrace a free marketplace of ideas and boldly speak and act on behalf of all of our students.
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2. Cox, J. (2021, June 16). BC professors file federal suit against college district officials over free speech. Bakersfield Californian. Retrieved from https://www.bakersfield.com/news/bc-professors-file-federal-suit-against-college-district-officials-over-free-speech/article_76375cba-ceca-11eb-bc34-7b93425028ba.htm.
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4. Bakersfield College Academic Senate. (2022, Feb. 16). National Assessment of Collegiate College Climates (NACCC) Student Racial Climate Survey Results. Retrieved from https://committees.kccd.edu/sites/committees.kccd.edu/files/NACCC_SenatePresentation.pdf
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