Why a community college CDO stresses diversity as path to degree
Community colleges offer more diversity than many other institutions, which is one reason that, at Portland Community College, Chief Diversity Officer Tricia Brand focuses on college degree completion and creating clear academic pathways for students.
Community colleges leaders elsewhere have seemingly been slower to elevate chief diversity officers, or CDOs, to the executive team. But as a member of the Portland Community College president’s cabinet, Brand meets quarterly with school executives to develop the institution’s equity plan.
That’s because diversity initiatives are critical because community colleges have often been the first choice for first-generation students, low-income students and students of color, Brand says.
“Before, we may have taken more of a right-to-fail approach with students. We said to them, ‘You have a right to be here,’ but we’re not going to intervene too much,” Brand explains. “But because of a lack of access to four-year universities, we have a great responsibility to ensure that our institutions reflect and serve students who come to our colleges.”
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One of Brand’s priorities is guiding campus leaders in reviewing data to spot and close equity gaps. This has led educators to, for example, help students who arrive on campus with little preparation to develop financial and academic plans.
Her work also touches facilities. Considering some students only have limited digital access off-campus, Brand has helped building planners ensure there is ample computer lab space and places to charge smartphones. She also has worked to provide classroom-adjacent areas where students can hang out, study or eat.
Key to any wide-ranging diversity plan is establishing benchmarks and measuring whether various departments are meeting goals such as diversifying the curriculum.
“We often get stuck in the aspirational piece,” Brand says. “We affirm the things we want to accomplish but we never require anyone to demonstrate that they’re moving toward meeting these goals.”
Click here to find links to other stories in UB’s chief diversity officer series.
Matt Zalaznick is senior writer of UB.