As Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine accepted the National Education Service Award at his year’s National Legislative
Summit, he described education as
“the great lifter and the great leveler.”
These words speak to the heart of the
open door mission of America’s community colleges, serving the 12 million
Americans who fill our classrooms each
year. The theme of “Diversity, Equity
and Inclusion” becomes an apt metaphor
for the work we do, the people we serve
and the values we hold. We are indeed
Opportunity’s College; even more than
that, we are Democracy’s Colleges.
A seismic demographic shift has
occurred in America over the past 50
years, a shift none of us can afford to
ignore. To meet the needs of this diverse
population, for we are mission bound
to do so, none of us can deny that the
community college of the 21st century
must become a vastly different institution from those of our founding years.
Regrettably, we engage in this conversation against the backdrop of a divided
nation, amid a decidedly “uncivil” level
of “civil” discourse. While our country is
undergoing a sense of collective confusion over who we are and what we value
as a nation, we in the community college
world are experiencing no such identity
crisis. Our open-door mission mandates
that we stand tall against the rhetoric of
hate and fear as oases of calmness, safety
and opportunity for those who come
to us hoping to achieve a better life for
themselves and their families.
Our colleges naturally embrace diversity in all its manifestations: gender, race,
ethnicity, age, religion, able-bodiedness,
sexual orientation and, as importantly,
opinion. Our campuses are microcosms
of the communities we serve, living
emblems of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In our business, diversity must be
everybody’s business, not just the job of
the multicultural affairs office.
AACC data show our campuses to be
melting pots of color, size and shape. All
are welcome, whether wearing a baseball
cap, hoodie, hijab or leisure suit. Truly,
we are Emma Lazarus’s “Give me your
tired, your poor,” writ large!
Celebrating our differences actually
strengthens our sense of community
rather than dilutes it. It means serving
the students we have, not the ones we
wish we had. It means making our college work for every student, not just the
ones who look like us. It means recognizing that the only reason any of us has a
job is because we have students to serve.
The equation is simple; their success is
Guaranteeing universal access is
no small task, but we have thousands
of thoughtful, talented and spirited
community college professionals, led
by equally committed presidents, who
believe in doing just that. Blind to the
differences, focused on the possible,
they have created accelerated learning
programs to mainstream underpre-pared students; infused culturally
responsive teaching principles into
classroom experiences; designed safe
zones for the worried and the fearful.
Who better than we, the “practical
cats of higher education,” can do this
important work? As our colleague
Martha Kanter, executive director of
the College Promise campaign, always
says, “We have promises to keep.” And,
I would add, not just to those who look,
talk or act like us!
Sandra L. Kurtinitis is president of Community College of
Baltimore County and chair of the AACC Board of Directors.
Lifting every student
Sandra L. Kurtinitis
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Sandra L. Kurtinitis
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Volume 89 , Issue 5.
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