This month, we recognize and celebrate a number of historical events and policy actions that have shaped this country in the work against oppression and toward freedom, and have impacted many on our staff and those who came before us in ways known to us and in others that we can only imagine. Certainly, current events, the cyclical nature of history, and the unfinished work of equity also require us to reflect on the urgent and necessary work that still lies ahead. The collective effort of many is required to realize our vision for the future wherein all of our systems, including our higher education system, enable the postsecondary aspirations of all students. This is a necessary component of vibrant, diverse, and thriving Illinois communities and it is what drives the work of the PCC team, our partners, and our programmatic and policy allies.
Juneteenth: On June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Union troops arrived in Texas to share that the more than 250,000 people who had been kept enslaved in the state were free. Long celebrated by Black American families, particularly in the South, last year Juneteenth finally became a federally-recognized holiday, and this year was more broadly observed and recognized across sectors for the first time. It is a day that represents freedom from oppression, hope, Black joy, and the effective end of centuries of slavery in the U.S., a day as important to the history of this country as any other.
10 Year Anniversary of DACA: Last week marked a decade of DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program – in the U.S. which offers an opportunity for working, attending college, and a path to citizenship for some who immigrated to the U.S. as children. In other words, participation in a full life in a place that is home. We hope that through the continued efforts and advocacy of the many who work on this issue, legislation that enables a real path to citizenship for DACA recipients and all immigrants who seek a life here will not be a dream, but a reality.
50th Anniversary of Title IX: On June 23, we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that afforded women and girls equal opportunity in education and sports across the United States. The law is also important because it bans gender-based discrimination in colleges and K-12 schools and also protects students against sexual violence. During the previous two presidential administrations, there has been a disputed overhaul of how Title IX allegations of sexual misconduct are addressed on college and university campuses. Last week, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of this law, the Biden Administration announced new draft guidance under the legislation that would shore up protections for LGTBQ+ students and make gender- and sexuality-based discrimation illegal.
50th Anniversary of Pell Grant Signing: June 23 also marked the 50th anniversary of the Pell Grant being signed into law. Since its passage in 1972, the landmark legislation has helped more than 80 million students afford higher education and access increased opportunities for their futures. It provides critical funds for students from low-income and middle-income households to attend college, which has become even more important in the last few decades of declining state investment in higher education and increased barriers to access related to college affordability. To ensure that students continue to have the same opportunities, we must ensure that Pell’s reach extends to those who need it most for the next 50 years and beyond.
Pride Month: June also marks a celebration of the voices, work, and contributions of our LGBTQ+ community members, and a recognition of the ongoing struggle for the basic rights and systemic inclusion of LGBTQ+ people across every sector of our society including in higher education. With more than 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ college students considering stopping out of college due to mental health challenges, we must continue to recognize the importance of inclusive support services that are crucial to creating a welcoming and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students at their colleges and universities.
As this June draws to a close and we think about how far we have come in terms of acceptance, love, inclusivity, and hard-fought rights in all of these areas, we can’t help but celebrate progress. However, that also comes with the knowledge that freedom is never guaranteed. Progress is not always linear nor is it inevitable. On Friday, the Supreme Court stunningly knocked down five decades of precedent that affirmed a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and privacy in her private health care decisions. These are decisions that impact the foundations of democracy – the equal protection of women under the law, their health and well-being, and their participation in all aspects of society. This illustrates the critical importance of the work that advocacy organizations like PCC play in advocating for equity. Fortunately, the work of the Illinois state legislature to protect women’s choice in all aspects of their health care is ahead of many other states and the work it will continue to do to preserve those freedoms in the coming months could not be more important.
All of this illustrates why the work of PCC matters so much. The work of fighting each day for racial and socioeconomic justice in our higher education system so that someday the facts of one’s race, gender, place, identity, or income do not determine their college outcomes as they do today. The work of fighting so that far more people—here in Illinois and across the country—can celebrate the accomplishment of their degree and the opportunities thereby afforded to them and subsequent generations of their families. We must fight to preserve what progress has been made to advance equity and work against oppression in all of its forms. We must remember the urgency of applying continuous pressure on systems of power and influence that preserve systemic inequities and prevent progress. Equity is a process; and this June, we celebrate the many milestones that represent decades of progress, while also being reminded of the distance we still must travel.
Lisa Castillo Richmond is the Executive Director of the Partnership for College Completion.