Be Known Let Our Story
BY MARY SPILDE
Effective advocacy requires clarity—clarity about he story we tell and clarity about our audiences. A good story is grounded in passion and commit- ment, which means we need to discover what we care about individually and collectively. It’s not hard. The American invention of the community college, founded on principles of social justice, opportunity
for all, and building and connecting to healthy communities, has
in recent months taken on a profound significance. It connects us
with what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke called “the great things of the
world and with the grace of great things.”
Those of us who work at community colleges do so because of a
fundamental belief in our mission. To advocate well, we must be
committed to this mission, to our students, and to advancing higher
education as a universal right.
As “Democracy’s colleges,” it is time to let the world know about
the good work that we do.
Community colleges can always make a difference in people’s lives,
particularly when individuals come to us wounded or convinced they will fail.
The best stories are students’ stories. Listen to students—and from their stories
construct a compelling, coherent message. We live in a world of words, of intellect,
of complexity, but we need a simple message that we can frame and
reframe for our audiences.
Externally, we must advocate to legislators. We must build relationships, and not just when our budgets are on the line. We must advocate for the whole community and our place in it. We can make our
story real by inviting local and federal leaders to college events and by
letting our students do the talking. We can find out what legislators
care about and relate our stories to their political motivations.
Advocacy for private fundraising requires many of these same elements. Whether trustees or chamber boards speak on our behalf, these
representatives also must share our passion and message. Help these
people and express gratitude for their continued support.
Advocacy also includes systematic contact—bringing people to campuses or
presidents’ forums and asking for advice. It includes hosting events and working to
become an indispensable part of the community.
From the Inside Out
It is critical to advocate inside the organization, as well. Faculty and staff are our
best ambassadors and our worst critics.
To be effective advocates, faculty and staff must have straight communication.
They need to know what is going on inside the college. They need to understand
the issues and understand how the college is responding. And these messages
should be communicated frequently.
We must advocate to our communi-
ties for the profession—for public
education, for our students, and for the
community college move-
ment. We must demonstrate
unwavering support for
faculty and staff as educators
and public employees.
We must advocate to
students and let them know
they are not second chance
or second choice—that they
can do it, that they are worthy, and that they deserve
We can build a field of expectations
through our unwavering, unflinching
belief in human possibility. Through
effective advocacy, we can ensure that
community colleges will serve our
students and our communities—for as
long as it takes.
Mary Spilde is chair of the AACC Board
of Directors and president of Lane
Community College in Eugene, Ore.