me and gives me guidance and feedback,” she
says. “I’ve had great mentors who have lifted me
up and given me confidence.”
BARRIERS AND CHALLENGES
With all the support they’ve received along the
way, community college presidents are nonetheless
aware of the barriers and challenges they have
surmounted—and that others might need to get
past in order to succeed.
“Opportunities are still not equal, even though
the law says they’re equal, but practices some-
times are not quite there,” Pan says. “Whether
we speak proper English, whether we’re first- or
second-generation Americans, we all have a lot to
contribute.” While Pan has never felt consistently
uncomfortable, he has encountered occasional
negative comments. “I learned to not let those
affect who I am,” he says. “It’s about remaining
grounded and centered. One has to ask, ‘Am I
effective in this job? Do I come to work with
excitement, and with a purpose? To what extent
do distractions affect my judgment and affect my
While Vela has felt supported by his institutions,
there have been times when people in the commu-
nity were chillier toward him in public forums.
“You know they’re not going to approach you, or talk
to you—they’re looking past you,” he says. “It’s more
of a cultural thing within that city or area. But I
never experienced that in a college system.” Leaders
need to challenge themselves to overcome uncomfortable situations, he adds.
As someone who is both black and openly
gay, Irving says, “Here’s the deal: We ain’t all the
same. We do share different challenges. Being
black, married to a Cuban, it forces you to live
in your truth. People that know me always talk
about my leadership style. I am very bold. I can
be a little audacious. People like my humor.
There’s a lot of truth that comes within it. I have
no choice but to walk within my truth.”
Diverse leaders need to be leaders for
everybody—but also realize there are certain
populations who will identify with them and
need their guidance and support, Pollard says. “To
whom much is given, much is expected,” she says.
The American Association of Community
Colleges recently launched the Unfinished Business
initiative to help leaders identify equity gaps at
their college and help provide them with the tools
needed to systemically address these gaps.
Ed Finkel is an education writer based in Illinois.