Complicity and Anti-Blackness in Community Colleges

by Dr. Marci Rockey / Nov 9, 2020

As calls for addressing racial injustice resonate across higher education, institutions are responding at varying levels. While anecdotally the most common responses I have seen are statements that may or may not incorporate action steps and conducting remote professional development for faculty and staff, some institutions have committed to advancing anti-racist policies, practices, and pedagogies.

Since I recently taught as an adjunct at Illinois State University (ISU), I received an e-mail invitation to the institution’s fifth annual Culturally Responsive Campus Community (CRCC) conference, which was themed “Equity with a Mirror.” The conference was started in response to Black student activism during the 2016 election and “works to actively recognize and rectify inequitable experiences and create a more just campus for all” (Illinois State University, 2020).

This year’s event had a record attendance of 1,000 people and spanned two days. The first day included a keynote address and concurrent sessions, followed by a second day dedicated to conversations for ISU faculty, staff, students, and the community toward action steps surrounding the conferences themes.

Conference participants were encouraged to reflect on anti-Blackness both inside and outside of the academy, with speakers sharing their experiences regarding activism. Keynote speaker Tamika Mallory, co-founder of Until Freedom, shared her personal story of activism and advice for those engaged in the work of racial justice. Many know Mallory for her impromptu speech in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, which quickly went viral.

In my first concurrent session presented by Dr. Kisha Porcher, assistant professor of English education at the University of Delaware and co-founder of The Black Gazepodcast, anti-Blackness was defined as “socially constructed to render Black people as inhumane, disposable and inherently problematic (Warren & Coles, 2020 as cited in Porcher, 2020).” Dr. Porcher focused her presentation within the context of higher education and specifically engaged participants in reflective activities while highlighting the work of Black student activists at ISU.

In my second session, Rosa Clemente, a scholar-activist who was on the 2008 Green Party ticket as a candidate for vice president, discussed her own identity as a Black-Puerto Rican woman and her well-known “Who is Black?” article published in 2011.

Across these presentations, there were discussions about the ways in which communities of color have been impacted by systems rooted in white supremacy and anti-Blackness. As activists, the presenters spoke about the importance of having a support system in place for engaging in racial justice work and being an active member of those communities for whom you advocate.

When I think about the consequences of anti-Blackness in education, I reflect on my own participation in a predominately white community college’s reaction to individual instances on campus that were symptomatic of an overall system failure to positively engage many Black students. As there were instances of gendered and racialized tensions in particular spaces, furniture was removed from these areas and I was told the problem was solved. Inquiries were made to understand if certain individuals were enrolled, and if not, privileges to use the spaces were revoked accordingly.

Ultimately, some individuals were no longer allowed on campus. While minimal efforts were made to understand why these individual students had stopped attending classes, there were no efforts to interrogate the root causes of these tensions in a local historical context of racial violence and racially and socioeconomically segregated schools and communities. Institutional actors simply wanted the issue to go away; therefore, the Black students themselves became “inherently problematic”—not the systems within which those students found themselves.


While I remember being very frustrated by this response, I was also one of those institutional actors complicit in it.

While I remember being very frustrated by this response, I was also one of those institutional actors complicit in it. The impact of this complicity as a mid-level, white administrator in one of these student’s stories has always stuck with me. As fate would have it, years later when I happened to be visiting this same campus in a new role with another organization, I passed this student walking through the hallway. I felt a sense of relief that the student had returned, but also conviction because I more clearly understood the negative impact of my complicity in this person’s story. As I was leaving that day, I texted a former colleague of mine to ask about the student and later learned about this person’s accomplishment of graduating.

In our predominately white community colleges, we have a tendency to take credit for the success of our students, particularly our Black students. We point to an individual or a program that made a difference for one Black student or a group of Black students. However, we don’t tell the full story.

The student I remember was harmed by multiple systems before finding success within and despite them, not because of them. The statements issued by predominately white community colleges with abysmal success rates for Black students cannot be taken seriously until we understand that our institutions are the inherently problematic part of this equation. Absent this critical examination and intentionality to understand and dismantle anti-Blackness on campuses and in our communities, we will continue to inflict further harm on our Black students and exacerbate existing inequities.


Illinois State University. (2020). Culturally responsive campus community.

Porcher, K. (2020, October 29). Anti-blackness in the academy. Culturally Responsive Campus Community Conference, Illinois State University.