Moving from Symbolism to Praxis: Insights on Equity for Men of Color from the M2C3

by Edmund Graham III / Jul 6, 2016

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit San Diego to attend a working group meeting put on by the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3) at San Diego State University. The meeting was designed to promote institutional capacity building to better support men of color in and through the community college. This meeting was appealing as it directly related to the work we do with Pathways to Results (PTR), as the model is designed to facilitate pathway improvement through collaboration, equity guided data analysis and interpretation, and evaluation. My primary goal for attending the meeting was to gain a different perspective on improving pathway outcomes for men of color and other traditionally marginalized student populations on the basis of regional, institutional, and state-level policy difference. Additionally, it was my hope to share relevant work that we do at OCCRL.

Day one kicked off with a bang with a rousing opening keynote from Estella Bensimon from the Center for Education at the University of Southern California. This opening session was especially valuable for me for two reasons. First, our PTR work is largely informed by the Equity Scorecard, especially how we have come to think about equity and its role in pathway improvement. Second, Dr. Bensimon’s keynote challenged me to be unapologetic in my pursuit of an equity agenda and unrelenting in striving for social justice for those who have traditionally been pushed well beyond the margins. It also reinforced the connection between equity and equity mindedness and pathway improvement that is central to the work of PTR and OCCRL in general.

The president’s panel was another great aspect of the meeting. Three community college presidents sat on a panel and discussed their philosophies on equity. They shared how under their leadership their institutions are changing their culture to serve all students in a manner that promotes positive outcomes, with particular attention to underserved student populations. Perhaps the most compelling thought from that panel came from Pamela Luster, president of San Diego Mesa Community College. The thought was predicated on the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats, which she noted as being true but posed the question, “what happens if all the boats aren’t in the water?" This was profound for me in that rising tide only addresses the needs of those who are acknowledged or recognized, whereas those who traditionally reside on the margins or on the shores of the water are not reached.

An additional goal for attending this meeting was to challenge my preconceptions about students and pathways so I decided to attend a session on formerly incarcerated or reentering student populations. This session was particularly eye opening for me as it relates to pathways, as my scope has often been limited to traditional secondary to post-secondary, adult basic education, workforce development, and other similar pathways. Though I have worked with reentering students in the past, I often attached an additional identity, such as an adult basic education student, without consideration for the nuanced intricacies within their experiences. As the primary entry point to education for males of color, the work done at community colleges to promote equity will not be successful unless we recognize the intersection between educational opportunity and other social justice issues such as mass incarceration. As such, greater attention needs to be made first to expanding educational opportunities for males of color and reducing the prison populations, and second to providing seamless transitions post-secondary education for currently or formerly incarcerated individuals.

As I attend meetings such as this I try to walk away with more than what I came with. My goal is to bring something back to improve upon the work I am engaged in here at OCCRL and to challenge my existing perspectives of the world as I continue to grow as a scholar. This meeting challenged me to expand my conceptions of equity and to be unapologetic in pursuit of it.