Faculty of Color at Community Colleges Marginalized

Community college research center report finds faculty feel marginalized, yet are committed to their students

John Levin, arms crossed

John Levin, a professor in the Graduate School of Education

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Faculty of color at community colleges feel subordinated and marginalized, causing them to limit what they could contribute to their institutions, according to a new report issued by a community college research center at the University of California, Riverside.

Despite this, faculty of color expressed a high level of commitment to their institutions, particularly their students, according to “Community colleges and their faculty of color: Matching teacher and students,” which was released by the California Community College Collaborative (C4).

“Even though colleges enact interesting policies and practices to create diversity, those policies don’t seem to be functioning well enough,” said John Levin, the lead author of the report. He is a professor of higher education at UC Riverside and the director of the California Community College Collaborative.

Three current or former graduate students at UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education assisted Levin, who has studied community colleges for more than 25 years, in creating the report: Laurencia Walker, Adam Jackson-Boothby and Zachary Haberler.

Currently, the more than 1,100 community colleges nationwide educate the majority of Hispanic students (56 percent) and a substantial percentage of students of color, including African Americans (49 percent), Asian/Pacific Islander (44 percent) and Native American (42 percent), according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Yet, in the fall of 2012, only 18 percent of community college faculty were underrepresented minorities.

Even in a state such as California, one of the most diverse in the nation, more than 50 percent of community college students are underrepresented minorities, yet unrepresented minorities make up less than 30 percent of the faculty.

For the “Community colleges and their faculty of color: Matching teacher and students” report, the researchers conducted one-on-interviews with 36 faculty at four community colleges in California. (The names of the community colleges were withheld to maintain confidentiality.)

The researchers separated their findings into three key areas:

(1) Faculty of color represent themselves as possessing different understandings of institutional life than their white colleagues and situate themselves in separate spheres from their white colleagues. One example focuses on the meaning of “student-oriented.” To faculty of color, the mainstream faculty population in community colleges understood the concept to mean stressing student learning outcomes or embracing the teaching function of the community college. In contrast, faculty of color understood it to mean connecting their own backgrounds with students.

(2) Faculty of color view themselves as subordinated to their white colleagues, and in this process the social and cultural identities of faculty of color are suppressed. This can lead to a “depersonalization of identity,” meaning faculty of color embrace their roles as professionals and, often consciously, limit more personal issues, such as aspects of their racial and ethnic identities, from their work lives.

(3) Faculty of color represent themselves as critical players in community colleges, particularly in the education and development of students. By emphasizing students, these faculty find a way to embrace their racial or ethnic identity without jeopardizing their status as professionals. This strong connection with the students, many of whom share similar backgrounds with faculty of color, appears to keep faculty of color in institutions that otherwise marginalize their racial and ethnic identities.

The researchers also provided a list of recommendations for community colleges.

One is that they need to work toward a critical mass of faculty of color. Faculty of color need to be recruited deliberately and strategically, which may require targeted funding from the state. Also, search committees need to be comprised of faculty of color, not just one member but a significant proportion of the membership.

Another recommendation is for institutional leaders to act. Diversity initiatives and multi-cultural and ethnic emphases of campuses must have substance and depth, not function as superficial or token solutions to tensions or aspirations.  In hiring practices of senior leaders, efforts are required to increase both administrators of color and administrators who are culturally competent and sensitive.

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