The Importance of Faculty Champions in Equity Work

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Creating an equity-minded culture is hard work and takes a community of champions to bring to fruition. It takes commitment from all corners of a campus to ensure student pathways and organizational structures and institutional policies and teaching and learning practices are designed in ways that support more equitable outcomes. As members of the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative (ILEA) developed their Equity Plans for their campuses, the role and engagement of faculty voices was integral, and the theme of our 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit - Engaging Faculty Champions in Equity Work - aptly reflects this. When we think of champions, we think of people who are willing to advocate for a cause they strongly believe in and want to support. With greater numbers of faculty champions on our campuses, ILEA members and other institutions doing equity work move closer to creating an equity-minded culture focused on making sure all students succeed.

As the Partnership for College Completion gears up for next week's summit, hear from faculty champions at Harold Washington College, Kishwaukee College, and Saint Xavier University on increasing student readiness, empowering faculty of color, and teaching and practice through an equity lens for all faculty.

​Harold Washington College
Asif Wilson, PhD, Associate Dean of Instruction
Sandy Vue, Assistant Director - Research & Planning
Jackie Werner, Associate Dean of Instruction
Maria Ortiz, Faculty
Bernadette Limos, Director - Strategic Initiatives, Marketing & Communications.
​​​Kishwaukee College
Pernevlon Ellis Jr., MA,  
Interim Associate Dean, Office of Instruction, Formerly Assistant Professor of Sociology; classes taught include race and ethnic relations, introduction to criminology, marriage and family, and social problems.
Saint Xavier University​
Gina M. Rossetti, PhD
Professor of English and University Fellow for Student Success; Teach First Year composition classes, introductory literature classes, American literature, and literature/humanities courses in the Honors Program. I have been at Saint Xavier University since 2002.

Partnership for College Completion (PCC): A core belief of the ILEA community is that colleges and universities should move beyond a focus on college readiness among students and instead strive to be student-ready as institutions of higher education. What does this mean to you and your work?

Harold Washington College (HWC): The position of being college ready may negatively place blame on the student as the sole purveyor of academic success. This notion also assumes that colleges and universities are in no need of transformation. Being student ready requires that we, as schools of higher education turn inward to reflect and transform the harmful mechanisms—practices, policies, and structures—that limit the possibility of living our missions.

Pernevlon Ellis, Jr., MA (ELLIS): Leaders of every postsecondary institution must engage in strategic planning that allows for the greatest flexibility to achieve its mission and vision. This requires setting and assessing realistic goals and making data-informed decisions. The ability to respond to trends in data to use resources appropriately to meet the needs of its stakeholders. The data that exists on achievement gaps must inform policy and practices to address the ability of colleges and universities to achieve equity. The mission and vision of each institution I have read can't be achieved with addressing these gaps.

Gina M. Rossetti, PhD (ROSETTI): For me, I believe it means beginning with a foundational value: every student is capable of learning. When we focus on only the student's readiness for higher education, we are attempting to mold him/her into a pre-packaged spot. To offer a more welcoming environment, institutions ought to look at policies, practices, curricula to ensure that all are inclusive for a diverse student body.

Pernevlon Ellis Jr.

PCC: A threat to the long-term success of faculty of color is racial battle fatigue among other factors. In what ways should institutions intervene to empower the success of faculty of color?

HWC: Schools, including spaces of higher education, inherently were not designed with people of color in mind (their histories make this very clear). The supposed invisible offensive mechanisms, as Chester Pierce (1970) called them, are as painful as the physical harm our bodies experience. These assaults not only leave staff, admin, and faculty of color (and other minoritized identities) feeling a sense of isolation, and can have long term negative health outcomes. Professionals of color working in schools of higher education need to feel a sense of belonging, a sense power, and a sense of community if the rates of push out (and unfortunately death) are ever to decrease.

ELLIS: Postsecondary institutions must assess and respond to the structural and cultural barriers to success for its faculty from historically marginalized groups. This includes identifying and addressing the barriers in the process of recruitment, development, and retention. Once barriers have been identified leaders of these institutions must facilitate the inclusion of organizational goals to address these as part of the strategic planning process. This will ensure resources are in place to address the micro insults, assaults and invalidations that lead to racial battle fatigue.

ROSETTI: A couple of approaches can be a faculty mentoring program for faculty mentors of color, which will assist new colleagues in both the tenure process, but also in onboarding colleagues so that they are welcomed into the institution. A second approach is that there must be a commitment from all colleagues at the institution that equity and access are important for all, and that matters are not articulated by faculty members of color. In other words, White colleagues must also engage in an institutional equity scan, identifying with colleagues of color pitfalls and barriers, and working together to eliminate them.

Dr. Gina M. Rossetti

PCC: According to this year's ILEA Fall Summit keynote speaker, Dr. Estela Bensimon, "equity-minded individuals are aware of the sociohistorical context of exclusionary practices and racism in higher education." How can your college or university expand awareness of these exclusionary practices that harm faculty, staff and students of color?

HWC: When William Rainey Harper, president of University of Chicago, began advocating for community colleges in the early 1900s, he was not doing so to expand access and opportunity to those who previously not had. Furthermore, the land the University of Chicago was donated to Rockefeller by Illinois Senator Stephan Douglas, who built his wealth from the unpaid labor of his slaves.

The histories of our school reveal their not-so-nice histories, bound in what bell hooks calls white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. By unearthing the oppressive legacies of our institutions (like the fact that Harold Washington College is built on the site of a jail where indigenous tribes were forced to sign treaties) we may be able to dream, and actualize, a world that doesn't reproduce the historical harm that our schools have.

ELLIS: Motivate employees to work individually and collectively to be a leading culturally competent institution. Encouraging white faculty, staff and administrators to lead these efforts to address the organization's failure to maintain a culture conducive to the retention and success of faculty and students from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups. They also need to lean less on faculty and staff of color to do this work.

ROSETTI: First and foremost, we need to listen to the experiences of colleagues and students of color, whose experiences at the institution are often quite different than those experienced by Whites. Second, we need to act upon what we learn from such experiences, working together to identify and prioritize how we can address these barriers.

PCC: During this pandemic, how can faculty integrate an equity and inclusion lens into their teaching and practice?

HWC: We do not believe that creating more equitable contexts requires lots of funding, new positions, or consultants. The praxis required for this sort of transformation must be built on love, care, and compassion. A love that bounds seemingly different people together to develop new knowledge, and hopefully a love that can transform oppression in the world and our schools.

We call faculty in to be mindful of the ways in which their planning, instruction, and assessment align to students' lives, communities, and center justice. We call administrators in to be mindful of the potential inequitable and harmful consequences of the decisions they are empowered to make. We call staff in to be mindful that they are educators too, every caring and compassionate interaction the students you serve can have long lasting, and transformational impacts. Together, we all can create the conditions in our schools that honor each other, in all that we have to offer.

ELLIS: Faculty are working diligently to facilitate learning that allows students to achieve the mastery of knowledge and skills expected in every discipline. Information and communication technologies are allowing for great creativity in the delivery of course content. Ensuring that we all engage in positive micro-messaging in our communications with students will be important. Interaction with students should be empowering to help those without it to develop the grit necessary to achieve academic success while enduring the challenges that accompany this pandemic.

ROSETTI: In many ways, the pandemic has intensified gaps, particularly in terms of technology and access to it (whether it is Wifi or personal technological devices that are not shared among family members). As a faculty member, I meet one-on-one with my students throughout the semester, and the same approach can be enhanced via technology. These conferences occur—both as regularly scheduled meetings—but also after assignments where I have seen a student struggle with the project. In reaching out to the student, I show him/her that I care about his/her academic success, and that we can work together to make the success a reality.

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Join PCC on Friday, October 16 from 11a-12p CT for our first Twitter Chat: The Importance of Faculty Champions in Equity Work. Follow us @partnershipfcc and use the hashtag #PCCchat.

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PCC: Vote 'Yes' to Fair Tax and Help Build a Pathway to More Equitable Higher Education in Illinois

Early voting begins today in Illinois, and with it, the opportunity to increase our state's revenue and set the stage for increased funding for higher education. The proposed Fair Tax amendment aims to change the income tax rate from a flat rate (taxing everyone at the same rate) to a graduated rate. Ninety-seven percent of Illinoisans will see either no tax increase at all or a tax cut; this change will increase taxes only on Illinois' wealthiest residents. By passing the fair tax referendum this fall, state leaders will not only raise more than $3B a year, but more importantly, create a pathway to adequately fund colleges and universities, invest in college students, and build a strong future for our state.

Support for a fair tax system could not come at a more pivotal time. The state is reeling from the fallout of an unprecedented public health crisis that has had deep economic implications for colleges, students, families, and Illinois communities. For students, higher education remains the surest way to the middle class and will be more important than ever to help students and their families recover from the pandemic. According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate in May was lowest among workers with a bachelor's degree or higher (7.2%), the only group not to experience an unemployment rate in the double digits. Similarly, those with a postsecondary degree or credential will likely fare better in the recovery, as over 95 percent of jobs created after the Great Recession went to workers with at least some college education.

Amidst the fallout, Illinois colleges and universities have persisted in carrying on their missions. Despite significant strains on existing resources, they continue to deploy critical resources to students and community members who have been most impacted by the virus, demonstrating their unique value to the future vitality of our state. As the state faces the ongoing impact of COVID-19, investment in higher education will be critical to supporting institutions and equipping students with the resources they need to enroll and persist in college and achieve their career aspirations.

However, as the proverbial budget-balancing wheel, without additional funding from the federal government or new state revenue, colleges and universities are preparing for the worst. Just this month, the Governor asked state agencies to plan for 5% cuts in the current year and 10% cuts next year. This is troubling news for all institutions but could be devastating for Illinois' most financially vulnerable colleges and universities, often the same institutions that serve higher percentages of Black and Latinx students. This is particularly concerning now, as COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx communities and exacerbating inequities experienced by students of color. Cuts to the Monetary Award Program (MAP) or to institutions serving marginalized students will undoubtedly result in more pronounced equity gaps in access and completion for Illinois' Black and Latinx students and students from low-income communities. For many, it could close the door to higher education altogether.

On its own, a fair tax system will not fill our projected state budget shortfall or close existing equity gaps, but it is a necessary first step. In the immediate term, it could lead to level funding for FY2022, which can provide stability for students who rely on state-based financial aid to access college, and to institutions that depend on state funding for critical programs and services. In the long-term, it could position Illinois to implement a more adequate and equitable higher education funding model that prioritizes funding to institutions serving marginalized communities.

When filling out your ballot this fall, vote yes on a tax system that will work towards economic equality and provide Illinois the revenue boost it needs to fund critical services, like higher education.

*Public higher education institutions and employees are limited in their ability to take action on behalf of Fair Tax. If you're interested in supporting a fair tax system in Illinois as an individual, sign on to endorse Fair Tax here. 

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ILEA Newsletter – Letter From Our Managing Director

Dear ILEA Partners,

Welcome back to school for a fall semester unlike any other. We have seen your teams up close as they have done whatever it takes to make plans for students to continue high-quality learning, provide new supports for students, and enable them to form social bonds and foster a connection with your colleges – and to do all of this safely both on and off campus. It is a Herculean task and the amount of creativity, innovation, and hard work are evident to all of us. We've also seen quick shifts to alter plans as the semester began and the virus affected students, faculty and staff. We are now beginning to see early reports about the upcoming spring semester, which look to be a continuation of current approaches.

The pandemic has continued to impact lives on and off campus, and has generally contributed to declines in enrollment across the state that cause concern about student access and institutional stability. This summer, campuses saw a significant decrease in enrollments, raising equity concerns, particularly among Black students, rural students, and at community colleges. Early data for the fall suggests that enrollments are down nationally, and among ILEA partners from between 5% and upwards of 20%. However, there are exceptions that give us hope. Northern Illinois University had a 1% increase in total enrollment for fall 2020 over the prior year, driven by an 8% increase in the size of the freshmen class and a 6% improvement in retention of first-year students. The Illinois Board of Higher Education's (IBHE) Stay the Course campaign and the website launched by the PCC this summer, Illinois Colleges Forward, aim to encourage students, parents, and the counselors who advise them that students should continue to pursue their college goals in Illinois whenever possible, even during this extremely challenging year.

Now, more than ever, your ILEA Equity Plans are powerful tools to help address student persistence, completion, and the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on our communities. They provide a roadmap to greater equity in opportunity within your institutions and seek to shine a light on how we can remove unnecessary barriers for students, as well as provide critical supports to those who need them, when they need them. The publishing of 21 institutional equity plans last month represents a significant and deliberate step toward equity in higher education in the state of Illinois, and we congratulate your important step forward. These plans detail approaches to onboarding first-year students, reforming developmental education, diversifying faculty, using data to target interventions, and much more. In the coming months and at the 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit, we look forward to sharing more with you about the strategies within these plans and how we can make connections among ILEA institutions to support implementation and a process of continuous, collective learning and improvement.

PCC was also pleased to announce Catalyst Grants in the amount of $12,000 for all ILEA colleges and universities publishing their Equity Plans this year, as the result of a grant from a local foundation. Please read below and also look for an email from your ILEA Equity Program Manager this week for more information on how to access the Catalyst Grant. We look forward to continuing to identify opportunities for greater philanthropic investment in your equity work.

In the months that remain of 2020, we look forward to seeing you virtually at a number of upcoming events, including at the 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit, which is dedicated to the critical role of faculty in eliminating equity disparities on campus. We have spent a significant amount of time adapting the schedule and session approaches to be conducive to a virtual event, and we look forward to sharing that with all of you. Because we are not bound by physical limitations presented by an in-person event, we encourage you to invite at least 25 faculty and department chairs from your institutions to join us for these sessions. We also hope to see many of you at our ongoing Equity Webinar series and at additional workshops that will be announced in the coming weeks.

We know the demands on your time will continue to be substantial, and we recognize all you do to ensure your students are safe and supported. I hope that despite all of the challenges with which you are faced in this moment, you can enjoy some of the beauty that the fall season offers -- at a safe distance and with a mask, of course.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa Castillo Richmond

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Chicago State Organizes Statewide Effort To Boost College Success For Illinois’ Black Students

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July 30, 2020

by KATE MCGEE - WBEZ

Faced with a 25% drop in Black enrollment at Illinois' public universities and colleges, a group of university officials, business leaders and advocacy groups are joining together to try to improve outcomes for Black students. The drop in enrollment, as well as declining graduation rates, have come while rates for other underrepresented student groups have increased.

Chicago State University, Illinois' only predominantly Black university, announced Thursday it is forming a working group to increase opportunities for Black students to enroll and graduate from college and find good jobs.

"Black students are having a different experience from that of white students," said CSU President Zaldwaynaka Scott. "[We] need to figure out what is at the root cause that is creating more obstacles, roadblocks and impediments to that."

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Black student enrollment at public universities and community colleges dropped 25% between 2013 and 2017. The percentage of Black students graduating from public universities and community colleges dropped 12% during that same time.

A recent report from the nonprofit, the Education Trust, recently gave the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago "F" grades for their Black student enrollments, which are 6% and 8% respectively, and make up a slightly smaller percentage of the student body than they did two decades ago. This week, the university pledged $2 million to prioritize faculty research and campus discussions on systemic racism.

While Illinois has seen its black population decline in recent years, Scott said there are more fundamental issues at play, which has been made more apparent by the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Black community and the current national reckoning on systemic racism and policing after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

"This whole system is not working for Black people," Scott said. "It's not just higher ed's problem. Our entire state are stakeholders in the outcome."

The working group will be chaired by Scott, Illinois Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), John Atkinson, Chair of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Karen Freeman-Wilson, President of the Chicago Urban League. The group includes public and private university leaders, state lawmakers, and representatives from businesses including John Deere, AT&T and the Hyatt Corporation. It also includes representatives from community advocacy groups.

"Through a long history of disinvestment in our state's public universities and community colleges, Illinois has, through state policy, limited opportunities for students and families who are least able to afford to attend college, and those students are disproportionately African American," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion and a member of the working group. "[I] hope that this collection of legislative and institutional leaders can increase the momentum towards enacting policies to remove barriers to success for Black students."

Scott said she'd like to see recommendations that focus on the transition from high school to college to better support Black students interested in a degree, including financial literacy and more college-level coursework in high schools. She also said continued financial resources beyond tuition grants and scholarships are key for students who are discouraged or overwhelmed by the additional cost of college, such as books, living expenses and food. Meanwhile, Westbrook pointed to policies that he says are barriers for students, including using standardized test scores for admissions and requiring underprepared college students to take developmental or remedial education classes before being able to take college-level courses.

The first meeting is scheduled for September 10. The goal is to develop an equity plan that includes policy recommendations by January 2021 ahead of the next legislative session.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter@WBEZeducationand@McGeeReports.

Source: https://www.wbez.org/stories/chicago-state-organizes-statewide-effort-to-boost-college-success-for-illinois-black-students/155b8f83-6b84-4853-83e3-b3840636efbc


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