Board of Trustees Approves Ambitious Goals to Fight Racial Inequity
The Santa Monica College Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday to adopt goals aimed at aggressively combating racial inequities among students. A crowd of students and faculty members spilled into the overflow room and erupted into applause when the measure passed.
A new state law, AB 1809, Chapter 33, requires all colleges to set goals for the number of students who earn degrees or certificates, transfer to four-year colleges, or find employment in their field of study. SMC voted to go beyond the minimum numbers required by the Chancellor’s Office in their plan, known as the Vision for Success Goals.
The goals outlined in the proposal are heavily influenced by SMC’s Student Equity Plan, which aims to close, and ultimately eliminate equity gaps between white, Asian, African-American, and Latino students. The Student Equity Plan must be submitted to the state by June 31.
The timeline was originally agreed on by a joint committee who planned implementation for the 2021-22 academic year. However, members at the school’s executive level pushed the dates back to the 2026-27 school year, an act that left some students and faculty members anxious that the school was turning their back on the fight against racial inequities.
Sherry Bradford, program leader of the Black Collegians Program, addressed the board. “I have worked at SMC for nearly 22 years. In those 22 years I have never made a public comment at a board meeting,” Bradford said. “But tonight the stakes are extremely high for our African-American and Latinx students.”
As word spread that the vision goals were being postponed, rumors began among students that SMC was reducing some services, including eliminating the African-American Collegiate Center and the Latino Center.
“Unfortunately the students got the message...that there was the possible elimination of the Black Collegian Center and the Latino Center,” said Trustee Chair Dr. Margaret Quiñones-Perez. “They see this stuff and their deductive reasoning says, ‘Oh that means elimination of those things.’”
Those rumors were unsubstantiated and Dr. Quiñones-Perez asserted that no plans to eliminate the centers had ever been discussed.
The board eventually voted to respect the more ambitious 2021-22 timeline, but many board members still remained skeptical.
“For me there are goals, and there are reachable goals backed up with money,” said Trustee Dr. Susan Aminoff. “So can someone tell me how we are to meet these very lofty goals within the constraints of our budget?”
Hannah Lawler serves as Vice Chair of the Institutional Effectiveness Committee which put the plan together. “Do we think that we can achieve them? We understand that these are really aspirational. They’re more symbolic than anything,” Lawler said. “By setting lofty goals without figuring out all the mechanics of how we’re going to achieve it, I think we’re using these goals to motivate us.”
Trustee Rob Rader raised concerns that the vision goals were oversimplified. “When we don’t parse our data more accurately and control better for the numbers, we end up treating each group as monolithic,” Rader said. “We treat all African-American students as just the same, we treat all Latinx students just the same. And different students come from different backgrounds, they have different experiences coming in, and they may require very different strategies.”
“I’m very happy to go for aspirational goals,” Rader added, “but I do think that goals without mechanisms are better characterized as wishful thinking.”
Not every board member agreed. Trustee Barry Snell commended the plan. “This is the first time that I’ve sat on the dais that I really believe we can do this,” Snell said. “We can do this. This is not a dream. This is an action plan... this is something that can be achieved, and I’m all in from a trustee standpoint.”
Still, the proposal only serves as a set of goals. Budget and implementation plans don’t have to be submitted until next year.