It is my honor and pleasure to be writing to you as the second Executive Director of PCC, succeeding our founding ED Dr. Kyle Westbrook in August. I have worked alongside Kyle over the past five years to build this organization, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life. PCC’s talented team; deeply committed policy partners; bold, thoughtful, and innovative institutional partners; and the significant work that remains ahead of us present promising opportunities for PCC to continue in its pursuit to address longstanding inequities in Illinois’ higher education system.
I grew up in Northern Illinois, the daughter of an electrician and a devoted mostly stay-at-home mom who also kept the books for their business. I was the first in my family to go to college, a fact that I only considered in moments of frustration or difficulty, such as when I was navigating the college application process or struggling with the rigor of my college courses and juggling jobs. I was always aware that it was a privilege for me to be in college, and that I had many advantages others did not. It wasn’t until I was working in education after college that I learned I was a “first generation college student”, which took me down a path of trying to understand the dismal data on how the U.S. was failing Black students, Latinx students, Indigenous students, students who needed financial supports, and first generation students – this despite the ‘college for all’ mantra. How could the often heroic efforts of students, combined with expanding numbers of dedicated programs of academic, social, emotional, and financial supports for college students be insufficiently matched to the challenge? Of course, the answer to that question involves an understanding of the deeply ingrained, systemic, and historical nature of our educational inequities, in how our systems are designed and funded, and often codified in law. Over a career of studying these issues, consuming data, and witnessing firsthand the stories of many students across the country, I know this to be true. And when you see this – you begin to see it everywhere.
Today there is a much greater awareness of these structural inequities in higher education than there was certainly a decade ago, or even when PCC began in 2016. When we look to solutions to address the urgency of reforming these systems, we at PCC believe our two most powerful levers are policy change (state and federal) and institutional-level actions on policy and practice led by leaders at all levels within colleges and universities, all of which must be supported by data and research. Our many partners in ILEA colleges and universities, in the state legislature, state agencies, and in other nonprofit and advocacy organizations are showing what is possible when higher education takes responsibility for its student outcomes.
In our next chapter as an organization, as this work continues and expands, we look forward to documenting and elevating the stories of how our state’s institutions and systems changed the equity narrative and truly became a system for all Illinoisans.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to build an equitable higher education system in this state. We are grateful to be on this journey with you.
In partnership for equity,
Lisa Castillo Richmond