Removing systemic barriers to the success of Black students now Ventura County Community College District's top priority

This article appeared in University Business magazine.

Enrolling more Black students full-time and supporting them in persisting and graduating are key elements of the Ventura County Community College District’s renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The board of trustees for the California district, which comprises 32,000 students at Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura colleges, has resolved to make removing systemic barriers that hinder the success of underrepresented students a top institutional priority.

The new initiative emerged from student and faculty advocacy for more support during the COVID pandemic and for greater recognition of the Juneteenth holiday.

“When the students take charge and start having conversations with their faculty, advisors and counselors and say, ‘hey this is what we need,’ the board wants to encourage and empower that,” board chair Bernardo M. Perez tells University Business.

At Moorpark College, students have recently created a Black student union and African American Male Education Network and Development chapter.

“It heightens awareness of what’s been going in systematically and what we can do to change behavior,” Perez says. “Now, there’s a critical mass of attention and people who want to do something, and we are taking advantage of this keen interest.”

Diversity in the classroom

District Chancellor Greg Gillespie acknowledges the systemic racism that has led to lower success rates for Black students in California community colleges, and their lower enrollment compared to the state’s population as a whole.

The Ventura County Community College District is now working to further diversify both its curriculum and its faculty.

Another area of concern is that fewer black students are transferring to four-year colleges, Gillespie says.

Counselors at the three colleges will offer more assistance to Black students applying for financial aid and scholarships to enable more students to enroll full-time, Gillespie says.

“We tend to have a white history outlook on a lot of things, so we need to increase the relevancy of our curriculum in a wide range of our courses,” he says.

“We aren’t doing enough to help students of all ethnic backgrounds relate to the material and see examples of people from their communities being successful.”

Another key initiative will be to diversify its faculty to better reflect the student population, board trustee Gabriela Torres says.

“Your budget reflects your values,” Torres says. “When we approve the budget, we’re basically saying we’re supporting everything that has to do with students, particularly underrepresented and African American students.

“We’re saying we’re social justice driven.”

Equity of expression

The board’s efforts have given new confidence to the college district’s students, who are now involved with faculty and administrators in work groups that are addressing racial justice, diversity in the curriculum and related issues.

“The environment following the George Floyd situation was a little less hopeful than I would’ve thought,” says Moorpark College student Gerald Richardson III, who is the founder and president of Youthfully Evolved Society, which assists vulnerable populations.

“But,” he adds, “our administration is making sure that we have faculty and student leaders in those work to make sure every perspective is represented.”

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