Reflections From Practitioners Who Advance Equity-Guided Change

by Chaddrick James-Gallaway with contributions from Cathy Dorathy, Josh West, and Dr. Asif Wilson / Sep 17, 2019

Pathways to Results (PTR) is an outcomes-focused, equity-guided process that supports Illinois community colleges in advancing equitable student outcomes. Three PTR team leaders have spent the past year coordinating projects to implement equity-driven change at their community colleges. Dr. Asif Wilson, associate dean of instruction at Harold Washington College; Josh West, dean of business, career and technical programs at Sauk Valley Community College; and Cathy Dorathy, CTE grants and projects manager at Black Hawk College, are sharing advice for community college professionals who are looking to lead their colleagues and institutions in similar change efforts.

Here are West’s reflections on the challenges associated with the necessary time commitment to advance his team’s efforts at Sauk Valley Community College:

“I wish I would have fully grasped that the strategy we laid out would probably not bear fruit for a couple of years. I was looking for immediate impact, but positive results may not be noticeable for another year considering there is a year delay for when students come to SVCC and when they apply to the Radiologic Technology program.”

As West notes, the time invested in SVCC’s project will not fully show results for a few years. Immediate results are not always possible when doing equity work, and sometimes it takes several years to see effective changes occur. While it is essential to make sure progress is being made to close equity gaps, we as practitioners of equity must remember to be persistent. Equity gaps did not appear overnight, and they won't disappear overnight. It would be easy for West and his team members to wait for data to come in from their project before scaling to other programs of study, but waiting was not sufficient when SVCC’s PTR team knew equity gaps were impacting students in other pathways. While SVCC is waiting for data on the impact of its PTR project, the institution is actively continuing to search for other inequities associated with STEM prerequisites that may hinder students’ abilities to matriculate into radiologic technology and other health-profession programs.

While time is a factor that can impact all PTR projects, student participation, or lack thereof, is another element to consider in equity-minded projects. Cathy Dorathy of Black Hawk College underscores the importance of overcoming challenges to gaining student feedback by sharing these thoughts:

“I wish that I would have known how difficult it would be to engage students in speaking about their experiences. We've had success in the past by going to students to conduct focus groups rather than inviting students to come to a particular focus group session. … To really gauge student experiences through conversation, staff and faculty need to work together to go to students rather than asking students to come to us.”

Despite low participation in the focus groups, there is an important lesson to be learned concerning seeking out student involvement when closing equity gaps. Requesting the voices of students is important for revolutionizing our community college institutions, but faculty, administrators, and staff members need to meet students in their classrooms, the most used student setting. While it may be easier for these individuals to meet students outside of classroom hours, it could be a barrier for students who may only be on campus for their coursework. Dorathy notes that it is essential for staff, faculty, and administrators to hear the voices of students and engage them in the classroom, where they spend most of their time on campus.

There are two important components for closing equity gaps on community college campuses once an initiative is complete in the areas of sustainability and scalability. Dr. Asif Wilson at Harold Washington College spotlights below how his team members plan to ensure their PTR project is scaled and sustained in three key ways:

“(1). We will continue to create space for students, staff, faculty, and admin to come together biweekly to practice collective care. This year, we had great success in creating a biweekly space to a) learn about theories and practices related to trauma-informed, asset-based, wellness-centered care; b) practice collective care and accountability amongst each other; c) consider the ways in which we could act to dismantle oppression within ourselves and our institute … (2). We will continue to offer our Equity and Justice seminar in future semesters. Although we have yet to run a large assessment (that is taking place this summer) on the seminar, early feedback has proved the experience to be successful. (3). We hope to continue to scale our embedded advising initiative—which brought advisors into classroom spaces four (or more) times throughout one semester.”

Wilson notes Harold Washington will continue to host a biweekly dialogue centered on decolonized, asset-based care of students. The group will also conduct wellness activities and continue to deconstruct privilege and oppression to best support students and close equity gaps. Along with continuing the Equity and Justice seminar (a key feature of the group’s PTR project), the team will complete an evaluation of the seminar to showcase the benefits and scale and sustain this faculty-led seminar across the institution. Wilson plans to lead efforts to scale the embedded advising model to ensure more students receive personalized time with their academic advisors.

As their PTR project years wind down, these three team leaders have discovered that their work during the past academic year has led to continually productive conversations on equity within their institutional contexts.