“In June 2021, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) released its Policy on Social Justice. Historically, institutions of higher learning have operated with firmly established policies and procedures that promote a climate of exclusion, racial inequity and racism towards Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). The ACCJC understands that issues around inclusion, diversity, equity and racism are deeply rooted within systemic racists structures and policies that support the very foundation of society. Further, the Commission has determined that “people of color have long been disadvantaged by the prejudice, discrimination, and implicit biases inherent within higher education that white people have been able to benefit from” (Kirk, et, al., 2022).
The California Community Colleges system is the largest in the nation and serves approximately 1.8 million students enrolled in 116 community colleges. The system is unique, with 70% of the student population coming from a diverse ethnic background (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, n.d.). The 115 accredited community colleges must abide by accreditation standards in order to “meet acceptable levels of quality” (U. S. Department of Education, n.d.). The accreditation standards are guided by a social justice framework that allows for community colleges to carry on best practices and to implement initiatives for student success, completion, retention, degree completion, and transfer. As a result, institutions are creating programs such as Basic Needs in order to assist students. In addition, institutions are implementing conceptual frameworks that revolve around universal design for learning that will ultimately reach all students, including students with disabilities. These programs and initiatives will ultimately address accreditation standards that focus on student success.
ORIGINS OF THE SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT
The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was made up of numerous groups that mobilized and created disruptions all over the United States. In the south, African-American communities were fighting for equal rights due to mistreatment and daily injustices. Jim Crow Laws were enforced by the “separate but equal” doctrine of the infamously racist decision by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed the use of segregation laws by states and local governments in the name of keeping White Americans separate from Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous populations. Today, Black men and women make up most of the incarcerated population in the U. S. Blacks are also targeted, profiled, and murdered at a higher rate by law enforcement, the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter.
The arrival of White Europeans on indigenous land was a historical and traumatic impact to the original inhabitants of these lands. Between 1492 and 1900, American Indians lost more than half of their population. A rough estimate of about 12 million Indigenous people died after the arrival of Europeans (Smith, 2017). The Indian Removal Act of 1830 by then-President Andrew Jackson enforced a relocation policy that resulted in close to fifty thousand indigenous people being forcefully displaced by U.S. military forces and the death of roughly four thousand indigenous people due to starvation, disease, and exposure to extreme weather (Indian removal, n.d.). Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the Indian boarding schools program forcefully removed hundreds of thousands of indigenous children from their homes and families. The children were stripped of their names, their religion, their native languages, and their cultural traditions. Today, indigenous communities are uncovering mass graves of children at Indian boarding school sites across the U.S. and in Canada (Associated Press, 2022). Currently, girls and women from indigenous communities go missing and are murdered at alarming rates: as of 2016, 5,712 American Indian and Alaskan Native girls and women have been reported missing (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, n.d.).
The long history of anti-Mexican sentiment has involved constant discrimination, including the removal of lands and land grants, segregation, lynchings, and massive deportations, all due to racial, ethnic, and anti-immigration prejudice. Today, Latinx people continue to face racism and discrimination, as the word immigrant is tied to brown bodies as well as low wages, physically stressed labor, deportation, immigration and customs enforcement detention centers, and incarceration but rarely to educational success when 0.2% of Latinx earn a doctoral degree (Enriquez, 2016).
The first racist law enacted by the U.S. against Asian-American communities was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which resulted in a ten-year ban of Chinese laborers immigrating into the U.S. Such exclusion laws had a dramatic impact on Chinese immigrants. These communities endured discrimination, harassment, exploitation, and violence on a constant basis. Today, since the COVID-19 Pandemic, more and more incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes have occurred, with more than 9,000 incidents reported (Associated Press, 2021).
Many movements and organizations have arisen to combat these and other injustices, including the Black power movement, the United Farm Workers, the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, and student movements. High school students in Los Angeles, California organized the L.A. Walkouts in 1968, and soon more high school student walkouts were organized across the nation by Chicanos as they demanded to no longer be treated as second class citizens. College students at San Francisco State College and UC Berkeley rallied and protested against discrimination and for better treatment by their professors, administration, and institutions. The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee had a Black Student Union, and other student groups came together, as well as leadership from the Black Panther Party and other groups with radical ideologies and a deeply rooted social justice consciousness.
At San Francisco State College, Black, Indigenous, Chicanx/Latinx, and Asian American/Asian Pacific Islander students participated in a five-month student strike, the longest in U.S. history. Students demanded to be taught by professors of color and to learn about their ancestral histories and contributions as well as demanding the first Ethnic Studies College to be institutionalized. What resulted after months of negotiations, rallies, protests, and resistance was an ethnic studies department. Ethnic studies was born from a revolution and foundation laid by members of the San Francisco State’s Black Student Union, and it included African-American Studies, Native American Studies, Mexican-American/Chicano Studies, and Asian-American Studies. Ethnic studies represents a long history of education for liberation and self-determination and is a direct representation of social justice.
EQUITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION
In higher education, equity is in the forefront of the work faculty do. Institutional initiatives are important to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in every department. These institutional initiatives should align with accreditation standards. For instance, within the student services arena, multiple measures in student assessment were regarded as critical in the appropriate placement in English and math courses. Assembly Bills 705 (Irwin, 2017) and 1705 (Irwin, 2022) have guided educators on how to support students who are disproportionately impacted in academia. Such radical changes were intended to provide a new way to teach and to offer the necessary student support for success.
Furthermore, instructional faculty have risen to address the inequities that continue to persist in classrooms. From student learning to pedagogical practices, faculty must continuously assess the delivery of subject matter to students. Equally important is the way faculty address student learning outcomes in order to be intentional in how and what they teach and aware that they need to adjust and adapt to the needs of students with ethnic and diverse learning backgrounds. With this in mind, institutions need to evaluate their current best practices in order to provide an intentional and meaningful learning environment.
ETHNIC STUDIES REQUIREMENT
On August 17, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom approved an action that added §89032 to the Education Code. This bill, AB 1460 (Weber), required the California State University to provide for courses in ethnic studies at each of its campuses commencing in the 2021-22 academic year.1 The bill created an undergraduate graduation requirement to be fulfilled through the completion of at minimum one three-unit course in ethnic studies.
Today, the ethnic studies requirement is in full force. College students enrolling at both the California community colleges and the CSU must meet the graduation requirement. The California Ethnic Studies Movement has established Ethnic Studies Task Forces and Ethnic Studies Faculty Councils for the advancement of ethnic studies at the community college, the CSU, and now the UC levels. Several studies have found that students who participate in ethnic studies courses are more academically engaged, develop a stronger sense of self-efficacy and personal empowerment, perform better academically, and graduate at higher rates (Sleeter & Zavala, 2020).
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION, AND ACCREDITATION
Higher education leaders in the state of California are strategically adopting the social justice policy as established by the accreditation commission. The ACCJC reported that it is “committed to applying its leadership, advocacy efforts, and position of influence to dismantle historical and institutional racism and eradicate educational inequities” (ACCJC, 2021). The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) stated that the “social justice policy commits the commission to recruit more college professionals of color for peer review teams; recruit more professionals of color to serve on the commissions; and infuse anti-racism discussions into ACCJC’s professional development programs through conferences, symposiums, and webinars for member colleges and for ACCJC staff and commissioners” (CCCCO, n.d.b). Institutions must continue to address these critical topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion in accreditation. Without these conversations, the 115 accredited California community colleges will inadequately serve students.
Further, the ACCJC, through its standards, requires institutions to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in various areas of operation, including governance, curriculum, student services, and community outreach. Institutions seeking accreditation from ACCJC are expected to promote social justice and address issues of equity and inclusion.
The ACCJC has been actively engaged in discussions around equity and social justice in higher education. The commission has organized workshops and webinars for member institutions to explore the role of accreditation in promoting racial equity and social justice in the community college setting.
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. (2021). Policy of Social Justice. https://accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/6.b.i.-Policy-on-Social-Justice-First-Read.pdf
Associated Press. (2021, August 12). More than 9,000 anti-Asian incidents have been reported since the pandemic began. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/08/12/1027236499/anti-asian-hate-crimes-assaults-pandemic-incidents-aapi
Associated Press. (2022, May 11). U.S. report identifies burial sites linked to boarding schools for Native Americans. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/05/11/1098276649/u-s-report-details-burial-sites-linked-to-boarding-schools-for-native-americans
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (n.d.a). Key Facts. https://www.cccco.edu/About-Us/Key-Facts
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (n.d.b). California Community Colleges Commend Accrediting Commission’s Action to Strengthen Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. https://www.cccco.edu/About-Us/News-and-Media/Press-Releases/2021-action-to-strengthen-diversity-equity-inclusion
Enriquez, Jose. (2016, October 3). How we can improve the Latino educational pipeline. Unidos US. https://unidosus.org/blog/2016/10/03/can-improve-latino-educational-pipeline/
Indian removal. (n.d.). pbs.org. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2959.html
Kirk, K., Robles Lopez, A., Stewart, R., & Webb, C. (2022). ACCJC social justice policy and enhancing racial equity in our accreditation work. (Powerpoint). Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Accreditation Institute. https://www.asccc.org/content/accjc-social-justice-policy-and-enhancing-racial-equity-our-accreditation-work
Missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). (n.d.). Native Hope. https://www.nativehope.org/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-mmiw#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20National%20Crime%20Information%20Center,%2C%20only%20logged%20116%20cases.%E2%80%9D
Sleeter, C., & Zavala. M. (2020, Oct. 15). What the research says about ethnic studies. National Education Association. https://www.nea.org/resource-library/what-research-says-about- ethnic-studies
Smith, D.M. (2017). Counting the dead: Estimating the loss of life in the Indigenous holocaust, 1492-present. Southeastern Oklahoma State University. https://www.se.edu/native-american/wp-content/uploads/sites/49/2019/09/A-NAS-2017-Proceedings-Smith.pdf
U. S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Accreditation in the United States. https://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg2.html#U.S.
1. Full text of the bill is available at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB1460.