By: Jess Delegencia, NWCCU DEI Lead and Consultant
Our institutional mission at Nevada State College is anchored by the idea that “excellence fosters opportunity.” This statement – a promise, really – reflects our pledge to excel in every facet of our work so that all students have an opportunity to succeed at the highest level. One of the ultimate goals, sought but not yet fully realized, is to ensure that no matter where a student starts their journey at Nevada State, our collective efforts will help them enjoy a better quality of life when they leave as graduates.
The importance of this work is hard to write about, if only because it feels like you just scaled the world’s tallest virtue-signaling soapbox, but this really is about the conviction I see in my colleagues on a daily basis, and the transformation I underwent as an undergraduate many years ago. With that in mind, equity matters because, as educators, I believe we can – and must – try to make a difference in the lives of our students. The simple truth is that people need strong allies in the battle against systemic racism, and we can help turn the tide in the right direction. To paraphrase an oft-used quote, I do not know if the moral arc of the universe inherently bends toward justice, but that’s even more reason for us to intentionally shape it in the direction of a better world.
Our efforts to address equity through student success programs manifest primarily in two different ways. The first is as an integral component of initiatives and programs aimed at our entire student population. For example, a bedrock of our student success effort is an exceptional peer-to-peer support network that includes tutors, writing specialists, peer mentors, and embedded “course assistants.” Equity is woven into the framework of the training that they all undergo, from a reading of Who Gets to Graduate? at the outset of the experience,to role-playing exercises that help them eschew a deficit mindset in favor of an asset orientation. Likewise, our Academic Success Center has developed an Equity Plan that aims to prevent and dismantle inequity in their workspace through “active and intentional anti-racist, critically reflective, inclusive, and accountable actions.”
The second manifestation of our efforts to address equity is through programs that are directed specifically at under-served populations of students. For example, one of our most effective and long-standing initiatives is the Nepantla program, which integrates “wraparound” student support with an innovative and culturally competent curriculum to promote the success of a 1st generation – and largely diverse – student population. Similarly, one of our newest endeavors is Sankofa, a wonderful program that is designed to promote the recruitment and retention of Black students through mentorship, academic support, and an array of social activities offered by Black faculty, staff, and community leaders.
These superb programs and others like them have taught us a number of essential lessons. One is the importance of a committed and empowered campus. This work is not easy, and for us it would be nearly impossible without the collective effort of faculty and staff who believe in our social justice mission. Perhaps our most effective contribution as campus leaders is not to dictate the nature of this programming, but to ensure that equity is an inexorable goal in our most hallowed documents (e.g., the mission, strategic plan), to give faculty and staff space to dream up ways of achieving that goal, and then to invest the resources needed to make it happen.Appropriately, most of the success efforts I discussed here are not the product of a leadership initiative or system-wide mandate, but rather the work of faculty and staff who simply wanted to do more to help our students. If that sounds “Polly Anna-ish,” I can assure you that we also deal with indifference and conflicting opinions at every level of the institution, but overall our commitment to social justice is a very real strength of the college.
A second lesson is about the importance of good data and evidence, and the recognition that, if the methods are right, it can come from anywhere. On the one hand, we spent years developing a comprehensive data infrastructure that gives us on-demand access to virtually every data point collected by the college. In my view, it has played an invaluable role in our ability to understand the determinants and correlates of student success. On the other hand, much of what we know about what makes our programs successful – and what still needs to be done – comes from the simple act of listening to what our students have to tell us.
I’m probably wearing out my welcome by this point, so I’ll just say that I’m drawn to the idea of people coming together to tackle a challenge that is much bigger than any of our individual institutions. If I can learn something about how to enhance our equity initiatives at Nevada State, and can give something back to my peers in the process, this will be well worth the effort.
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