Project Empowerment

September
2008
Beth Smith, Equity and Diversity Action Committee, Chair
Phillip Maynard, Equity and Diversity Action Committee, Past Chair

We have now come to the point that our student population is drastically different than it was 30 years ago. Many students are under-prepared for college. While it may be convenient to blame elementary and secondary schools for not doing their job and passing along under-prepared students, the problem will not go away, and we must find reasonable solutions to it. Our students do not look the same, and they don't respond in the same way to teaching methods of 30 years ago. These students need different approaches to succeed in college. What can we do? Studies indicate that under-prepared and non-traditional students can succeed academically if they are given additional assistance to overcome their academic deficiencies. However, they often fail to respond positively to traditional teaching methods. One of the most important things we can do as faculty members is to become sensitive to the distinctive needs of our diverse student population. For example, we as faculty may not always be aware of our behavior and the cultural assumptions behind it that may inadvertently alienate people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

We can also refine our teaching methods to incorporate new approaches that may be more effective with all the students we teach. Diane Woodruff, Interim Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, gave a presentation on April 9 of this year entitled "Today's Issues, Challenges and Opportunities in Student Services," in which she stated, "Our student population brings extraordinary challenges to our campuses and there is no way we can overcome those challenges without looking at what goes on in the classroom and strengthening those services we provide outside the classroom and linking the two to keep our students on track. It does indeed take a whole college to enable an under-prepared, unconfident and needy student to overcome all of those barriers and become a success."

She further introduced a number of new programs that are making a difference in improving the success and college completion rates for African American, Latino and Native American students, basic skills and at-risk students.

One of those programs is the Umoja community. The educational goals and mission of Umoja personify the organization as a community of educators and learners committed to the academic success, personal growth and self-actualization of African American and other students. The Umoja community seeks to educate the whole student body, mind and spirit. Informed by an ethic of love and its vital power, the Umoja community deliberately engages students as full participants in the construction of knowledge and critical thought. The Umoja community seeks to help students experience themselves as valuable and worthy of an education.

In addition, the Umoja community is culturally responsive as an instructional approach to learning by engaging faculty who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic in their approach to addressing the academic and support needs of all students. The Umoja community is considered to be the first statewide approach of its kind to specifically address the retention and academic success of students through the focus and power emanating from the African American experience.

Diane Woodruff in her presentation went on to state, "We invited members of the Umoja Steering Committee to make an informational presentation to the Board of Governors about efforts to expand this model statewide, and the Board responded by putting a motion on the table and unanimously passing it to endorse and support this wonderful program."

The Umoja community, together with California Tomorrow, made a dual presentation regarding our student population at the Spring 2008 Plenary and received many positive responses regarding the breakout session.

It is our intent that the Umoja community will present their project at the Fall 2008 Plenary. Diane Woodruff's final remark was, "Our community colleges are open to everyone and we offer students an opportunity to achieve their personal goals, to transform their lives and to realize and live the American Dream." Let us look forward to hearing from the Umoja community as we move towards that American Dream.

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