College Update: Opportunity and Equity Initiatives

Friday, October 2, 2020

A Special Message from Sandy Shugart, Valencia College President

In earlier conversations, and now in ongoing strategic planning efforts, we have discussed our special responsibility, in light of Valencia College’s mission and history, to ensure that opportunity is real for everyone, and that equity, especially in student outcomes, is the test of that opportunity. This core value is one reason Valencia has been and continues to be regarded as one of the boldest colleges in the country in seeking equity in student outcomes — still a central focus of our work.

Recently, the District Board of Trustees approved a model of planning, already underway, around these student outcomes in four areas: Access, Completion, Transfer and Workforce success. All have a powerful focus on equity in both our uses of evidence and our strategies to achieve them. The model also names as the underlying, unifying platform — Opportunity and Equity — as the core of Valencia’s mission.

The planning process has already begun, with hundreds of you convening to develop specific goals in each of the four areas to be presented to the board in December. Goals for Opportunity and Equity are to be developed in the spring. Then, action plans for all five of these goal areas will be developed at the college, campus and unit level.

All of this, done in true Valencia College, collaborative fashion will take some time. Collaboration always does, but it yields better and more sustained results. Nevertheless, I feel urgency, as many of you do, to begin serious and actionable work in the practice of equity at Valencia — things we strongly believe will be good for students and for the College that needn’t wait on the development of a plan — in fact, should help us to discern the right areas to focus on within the plan.

Opportunity and Equity Initiatives
On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, I shared these initiatives with the board, work that I am setting in motion now to deepen our commitment to the practice of equity.

School of Public Safety: Curriculum Review, Redesign and Training
First, in light of the dreadful events and violent encounters with law enforcement officers in many of our communities, we feel a special responsibility to press deeply into our mission to train them through the School of Public Safety. Some months ago, soon after the killing of George Floyd, I met with the senior law enforcement officials in our region to set in motion a deep review and revision of the training we provide. A diverse task force, with representation from the agencies, the community, our Peace and Justice Institute and faculty, and leadership from the School of Public Safety, is charged with this review and revision, to include curriculum, tactical training, ongoing advanced training and leadership development. Already, much advanced training is being deployed with sessions on Fair and Impartial Policing, De-escalation, Racial and Emotional Intelligence, Community Engagement and Peacemaking. The work will certainly involve both actions and recommendations for further work, both immediately and into the future.

Valencia Safety and Security: Training and Development
Second, it is important to look inward on this matter. While Valencia doesn’t operate a police force, we do employ a substantial team of Safety and Security staff. Although they are not armed and do not have the power to arrest, they have already contributed much to the safety of the campuses and our readiness to thrive through all manner of potential threats. Their daily role, however, is to serve as ambassadors for safety and security with students and employees. In many ways, because they are the first Valencia staff the public is likely to encounter on campus, they serve as “directors of first impressions.” There is great potential here to help everyone on our campuses know they are welcome, that they belong at Valencia, and this is a safe place for all. There is also potential for conflict, misunderstanding, biased interactions and distrust.

Our safety team has already stepped up its training for equity, cultural competence, diversity and inclusion. I have asked Loren Bender, vice president, business operations and finance, and Paul Rooney, assistant vice president, operations, to lean in and develop comprehensive plans for this area, including diversity and commitment to equity in the leadership structure of Safety and Security.

Organizational Development and Human Resources: Policy and Practice Review and Redesign
Third, Valencia cannot achieve its goals for students and make opportunity and equity real for them unless it continues to improve in practicing opportunity and equity with its own staff and faculty. To this end, I have asked Amy Bosley, vice president, organizational development and human resources, to empanel a diverse design team to thoroughly review and redesign our policies and practices of recruiting, hiring, on-boarding, promoting and evaluating employees at every level. I have also asked that all of our systems and our professional development programs move toward making equity-mindedness an essential competency for Valencia employees in every role. This work is ongoing, but we expect meaningful changes before the next busy hiring season.

There are many other areas of policy and practice in need of review with an eye toward opportunity and equity. For example, the student discipline policy is currently in such a review, requiring conscious attention to issues of disparate treatment or impact, cultural sensitivity, and diversity and inclusion. Therefore, at its September meeting, the District Board of Trustees approved amendments to Policy 6Hx28: 1-09 – Policy Development, Review and Approval that requires regular review of all Valencia policies and ensures that equity will be an important element of every review.

Leadership for Equity and Opportunity: Infrastructure Design
Fourth, you can see there is much to do, even in a college that has been considered a leader in its focus on closing gaps in student outcomes. So much, in fact, that I am convinced we need focused leadership to guide our reviews, facilitate redesign and implementation, and build accountability into our systems. We are not ready to simply appoint a person with this general charge yet, and given our leadership transition, it seems to me that decision should fall to the next president. But, we can and should design the functions and support systems of such an office that will make it effective. Therefore, I am also commissioning a design team for developing a plan of Leadership for Equity and Opportunity, to be completed by the spring. And we will seek, even in a time of constrained resources, to steward what we have to begin implementing early.

The Road Ahead
All of these initiatives will be managed through the existing frameworks for collaborative governance and with a sense of urgency to do good for all we can. In some ways, it might feel like new work. It may even feel like we are reacting to public events. I would say that public events have opened a conversation and shone a light on matters that will help us live into the DNA Valencia already has. We will do these things and more, not as a departure from the focus that makes the College a special place, but in fulfillment of the values and goals we already share.

What I have described here are institutional responses rooted in our mission and purposes as an “opportunity college.” But we should bear in mind that this work is informed powerfully by the lived experience of students, colleagues and community. Listening deeply to their stories, persisting humbly in conversations that can be uncomfortable, and engaging in the personal work of transformation and reconciliation are indispensable resources for our shared work.

The work we do at Valencia has always, even when difficult, brought us joy. I believe this will be joyful work as we move closer to fulfilling our original promise of opportunity for all.

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