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OCCRL Event Advances Equity, Program Review in Illinois

by Sal Nudo and OCCRL contributors / May 17, 2021

The successful spring OCCRL Equity Academy was conducted virtually and had three breakout sessions that covered numerous critical issues surrounding equity at community colleges, in the K-14 pipeline, and within the academy in general. Here is a recap:

Session 1: The Role of Educators – Dismantling Traditional Systems of Dominance in the Classroom Using Equity-Minded Approaches

In this session, Dr. Marci Rockey, assistant director for community college relations and research at OCCRL, provided community college faculty, staff, and policymakers with information on how to best generate student engagement in the classroom through an equity-minded lens. The group participants bravely shed their inhibitions to discuss how social identities affect their work with students. Additionally, the conversation delved into no less than the dismantling of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and the racial antipathy often found in courses, programs, and in higher education institutions.

During her talk, Dr. Rockey highlighted a brief she collaborated on with Colvin T. Georges Jr., which relates equity-minded approaches for engaging students in learning.

“I had a few faculty members share their experiences teaching during COVID-19, including reflecting on the importance of being increasingly compassionate educators beyond the pandemic, recognizing the impact of inequitable access to technology, and adjusting assignments to build community and have relevance to students in an online environment,” Dr. Rockey said.

View all of the “Ensure Students Are Learning” issue briefs and spotlight series issues.

Session 2: Moving Beyond the Reactionary – Strategies in Equity and Becoming Anti-racist in Policy and Practice

In this session, Jewel Bourne and Colvin T. Georges Jr., both research assistants at OCCRL, asked participants what it means to become anti-racist on an individual level and at an institution. The backdrop for the conversation was the plethora of national events that have forced institutions to release statements denouncing racism, as many may have noticed in recent months. But have these words generated actual change? The hosts of this session contended that a genuine commitment to closing racial equity gaps requires an implementation of anti-racist policies and practices that go beyond forming committees, hosting a lone workshop, or saying an institution is not racist without actual evidence of that.

Bourne said the heart of the presentation was asking participants, and by extension their institutions and their roles in them, how they can dynamically act, improve, and implement equity consciousness and anti-racism into their daily work to challenge structures.

“Our intention of the session was to engage practitioners in critical dialogue that moves institutions away from reactionary statements after a national incident, statements that claim to support students without actual action,” Bourne said.

Session 3: Engaging K-12 and Community College Educators in Conversations About Equity

In this session, Dr. Osly J. Flores, an assistant professor in Educational Administration & Leadership at Illinois, conveyed the lessons he learned while working for two years as an educational specialist at the Office of Career/Vocational Technical Education in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at Massachusetts. Dr. Flores described how equity gaps exist within CTE programs in Massachusetts’ educational system, which has been noted nationally for its excellence. The discussion centered on how the agency Dr. Flores worked at fostered equity internally, which led to talks on K-14 equity in education within Massachusetts.

Osly said one conversation during his OCCRL Equity Academy session focused on how CTE should be regarded in a more positive, valuable light when it comes to career paths.

“We need to have conversations with students and parents about the financial benefit of CTE programs,” said Osly, who noted in the session that this encouraging data was shared to the public in Massachusetts during his time in that state.

Dr. D-L Stewart Gives Keynote Presentation

After acknowledging and thanking OCCRL’s co-sponsor of the event, the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), OCCRL Director Eboni Zamani-Gallaher noted the upcoming reauthorization of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, also known as Perkins V, and asked event participants to contemplate how CTE “can be a transformative change agent for how we serve primarily historically disadvantaged students.” She described the keynote presenter, Dr. D-L Stewart, as her longtime friend and by now “extended family” to OCCRL.

Dr. Stewart is a professor in the School of Education at Colorado State University and co-chairs the Student Affairs in Higher Education programs at the institution. The professor’s talk, “Rethinking the Relationship Among Diversity, Inclusion, & Justice,” covered how diversity and inclusion shape and orient institutions differently from equity and justice. Though these common words in the field may seem interchangeable, they’re actually quite different in terms of how they are designed and practiced within organizations. Readers can learn more about this topic via a 2017 Inside Higher Ed piece written by Dr. Stewart, who conveyed to the virtual audience that these four words—“diversity,” “inclusion,” “equity,” and “justice”—can collaborate, so to speak, to truly change and enhance institutions and organizations.

Following Dr. Stewart’s talk, participants asked about topics such as how to get white, cisgender individuals who aren’t concerned about equity issues to care about them, as well as how to maintain safe spaces while discussing what can sometimes feel like fragile, contentious issues surrounding equity.

Dr. Rockey, who organized the event, said there were 146 registrants representing 20 community college districts. She was pleased OCCRL and ICCB were able to advance data-driven, equity-minded program review for community colleges in Illinois at the start of the event, and she said Dr. Stewart gave a thought-provoking presentation about the interrelated relationships of diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice.

“He engaged participants in understanding the importance of how we frame questions toward continuous improvement that will advance racial justice,” Dr. Rockey said.


The Office of Community College Research and Leadership, again in conjunction with the Illinois Community College Board, will host a fall Faculty Equity Academy on Sept. 10. Deborah A. Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education, will be the keynote speaker. The faculty-focused event will be open to all employees of community colleges in Illinois.