Dr. Johnette McKown, President of McLennan Community College, shares her thoughts on the importance of prioritizing racial equity work in our community. Read on for a Q&A with Dr. McKown.
1. Why is focusing on race equity within education important to you as the president of McLennan Community College?
From its very beginning in 1965, McLennan Community College valued access to higher education for all citizens. Opportunity in 1965 for people of color was limited. From my own lens growing up in a small town in the 1950s and 1960s in Louisiana, I saw inequities but was uninformed and just accepted life as it was. There were no Black students in my high school and only one in my college dorm when I graduated. While we have made some advancements in becoming an inclusive society, as a nation we have more to do to provide all citizens the prospects of a better life and equal access to higher education which is the space of McLennan Community College.
Our Board of Trustee members actively encourage racial equity in all we do. They have been supportive as the College adopted inclusivity as a core value and as I developed a diversity and inclusion statement which begins:
At McLennan Community College, we stand firm in our historic commitment to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment where everyone is treated with respect on our campus. We do not assume that we have achieved that goal. Our efforts will be focused on setting the example as leaders in assuring an environment of inclusion.
Additionally, I charged our College Success Team to affirm our commitment “to address the chronic challenges of inequity and ingrained, systemic racism in our community.” The specific committees are addressing:
2. Have you attended any trainings focused on race equity?
Yes, I have prioritized receiving training. Those this year began with the Race Equity Institute. There were numerous webinars this fall as well as the College’s Professional Development Day which focused on Unconscious Bias. On that day I also participated in a panel with a Black staff member and a Hispanic staff member to talk about life during our formative days and since that time. Among several seminars in which I participated were: The Hunt Institute’s Race & Education webinar series, one supported by the Community College Trustees Association, The Kirwan Institute Forum series from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (What Does It Mean to Be Anti-Racist?), and quite a few others. I also participated in Groundwater this fall. In February, MCC President’s Council will also be involved in a retreat on Unconscious Bias.
3. How did you present this work to your staff and board?
This has been a partnership between the Board and me. Our collaboration has been an easy one because my Board of Trustees is committed to this work. Also the College Success Team recognized the need and is leading in this area with sub-committees to forward this work. Our work has been a partnership.
4. What type of feedback have you received from your staff?
Our employees have been excited about this work. They care about our mission and our students and are interested in helping students succeed and want to serve on teams that are working on this initial.
5. What do you hope will be accomplished by committing to an equitable education environment?
Our overall goal is to live our Core Value that states that Inclusiveness matters. The description is: We will seek to appreciate and understand our students and each other, actively seeking different viewpoints. We will work to create a civil, welcoming environment where our diverse community of students and employees learn, teach, and work together.
The three sub-committees of the College Success Team have specific goals related to their individual charges.
Academic Success and Inclusiveness is seeking to understand why African-American success rates have historically been low and will work to understand the experiences of our African-American students to impact course success rates positively moving forward. (NOTE: The success of our Hispanic students matches or exceeds our White students.)
Recruiting Faculty and Staff for Inclusiveness is working to ensure that the College is doing all that can be done to recruit a diverse, committed faculty and staff to inspire and educate our students.
Including Students of Color is addressing the self-reported statement of students of color that they do not always feel welcome to MCC. This working group will seek to support student engagement by programming for inclusivity.
Finally, I am personally committed to ensuring an inclusive society. This is a priority. As the leader of an institution that promises a better life for all those who seek our guidance, I believe we have an obligation to help all of our citizens achieve their goals. People of color must know we care, and they must feel welcome here. The result will be important for individuals, for our community, for our great State of Texas, and for our nation.
Johnette E. McKown