When a Black person walks into a room, the Black person scans the room easily to find a fellow Black person. As a Black part-time faculty member working in Southern California community colleges for fifteen years, I have experienced this over and over.
Quietly, we have all spoken about our complicated experiences at colleges, while we gently encourage each other. Yet, in 2020, while we were all suffering with personal and professional effects of COVID-19, we were being confronted with the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement in the world, community, and on our campuses. Being at home has allowed many of us part-time faculty an opportunity to attend meetings that we have normally been excluded from attending or had no time to attend.
Throughout the last two years, teaching at various schools within Areas A, C, and D, I was able to sit in a variety of department, academic senate, and board of trustee meetings, only to find the same issue: looking around the Zoom room to count the number of Black faculty, so that we can private message each other to build a survival network. Visiting these meetings and joining the newly formed equity committee meetings has led to more awkward conversations of how to help improve the collegiate experiences for students without discussing how we can create a collegial experience amongst faculty.
For two years, these equity meetings have moved mountains in departments, academic senates, and other areas on campuses to produce policy change. I still, however, attend meetings where diversity is about the same, but there are more Black faculty slowly being considered for full-time employment. Curriculum is becoming more inclusive with the introduction of Ethnic Studies programs, but I hope every class instructor includes more diversity in the curriculum. All classes should represent the diversity of the student body.
Even though policy is changing, hearts and minds are not changing. The amount of overt racist comments amongst faculty via Zoom and in emails has increased in a way that has been alarming. It feels as if our deepest concern was finally confirmed: We are not as liked and welcomed from our peers as we believed. In a recent board of trustee meeting at a school in Area C, an academic senate president deemed diversity, equity, and inclusion as “hot topic” for the period, while the academic senate continued to study a four-year old report and recommendations on how they should move forward in creating a more inclusive curriculum and hire faculty that reflect the student body.
Administration is responding, and students are begging for change. However, our faculty is slowly and begrudgingly shifting in a way that many are standing against progress. Instead of seeing diversity as a positive to the community, adding diversity to the faculty is being seen as current tenured faculty losing something.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Why We Can’t Wait,
We need a powerful sense of determination to banish the ugly blemish of racism scarring the image of America. We can, of course, try to temporize, negotiate small, inadequate changes and prolong the timetable of freedom in the hope that the narcotics of delay will dull the pain of progress. We can try, but we shall certainly fail. The shape of the world will not permit us the luxury of gradualism and procrastination. Not only is it immoral, it will not work.
We all have a responsibility to each other and to our students to strive to be more collegial and to make changes in our hearts and minds that is reflected in our policy, curriculum, words, and actions.