Creating Inclusive, Socially Just Campus Environments at PCC

By Joe Culhane|April 23, 2019News, Sustain Me!, Top Stories|

On March 3rd & 4th, roughly one hundred staff, faculty, and administrators of Portland Community College participated in a training entitled Creating Inclusive, Socially Just Campus Environments. The event was facilitated by Jamie Washington, Ph.D., of Washington Consulting Group and Kathy Obear, Ed.D., from the Center for Transformation and Change. The purpose of this training was to outline a variety of direct actions and behavior changes that PCC staff can practice as a means to create a more socially just, equitable, and diverse college setting.

As the only student attending the event, I was afforded a perspective on our institution that many students do not have the opportunity to see. It was encouraging to witness folks in varying positions of power within PCC making efforts to address much needed social change. It also provided me with a framework with which myself and other students can hold faculty and staff accountable for following through on the practices laid out in these trainings. This was the fifth year of the training, and in years past there have been up to 200 people in attendance. This means close to 1,000 staff, faculty, and administrators have received this training; and yet, toxic masculinity and white supremacy remain foundational elements of PCC as an institution.

Two great lessons that were delivered early in the training were PANNING and Observing Group Dynamics With an Inclusion Lens. PANNING is the practice of developing an awareness of what is happening inside of and around you by panning like a movie camera. PAN: Pay Attention Now. by avoiding the trap of inventing narratives about others and making snap judgements. By panning and mindfully observing group dynamics we are able to immediately create a more inviting and respectful atmosphere for people of all backgrounds without judgements, assumptions, or negative conclusions.

Another lesson was Recognizing Privileged and Marginalized Group Patterns. In this lecture, We were reminded that privileged groups are the ones who typically make the rules, and define what is considered “normal.” Society accepts the cultural beliefs of privileged groups, often without much (if any) examination. Marginalized groups on the other hand, grapple with finding ways to be “acceptable”, and are penalized if they defy or challenge the status quo of the privileged groups. It also reminded those in the training that marginalized groups have less access to resources and power, and are much more aware of cis/het/white privilege than those who possess it. Jaime Washington summed up this training most succinctly when he stated, “If you’re not willing to own your groupness, you are most likely to show up as your groupness. And

 

if you don’t own your privileges, they will become entitlements…”

 

Addressing the Dynamics of the Status Quo was a big lesson for nearly everyone in attendance. The premise of this training was to help individuals identify their own group membership as it relates to intersections of social stratification. If one can recognize their privileged social standing, they must divest entitlement and take on responsibility for dismantling systems of oppression. One part of this lesson that really resonated with me, was that we must avoid patterns of thinking that discount perceptions of reality that fall outside the realm of one’s own experience. An example of this type of thinking might sound something like, “That doesn’t happen to me…(so it doesn’t exist)” or… “I don’t see it that way; therefore, it doesn’t really happen…” Even though this type of thinking is not always conscious, it’s important to remind oneself of the subjectivity of one’s own experience, especially in a world enformed by stark social dichotomies.

One of the more innovative methods presented in the training was developed by Kathy Obear, it is based upon the acronym “P.A.I.R.S”: Pay attention, Ask, Interrupt, Relate, and Share. Each letter provides teachers with helpful ways to access self awareness and empathy when facilitating contentious discussions in the classroom. It is designed to be utilized by staff, faculty and administrators in meetings and in a variety of other group settings. Ideally, we would incorporate these practices and make them an integral part of PCC’s conflict resolution tactics.

Another part of the training outlined 8 clear steps to “Strategic, Sustainable Organizational Change”. These steps helped participants to develop a better understanding of the experiences of marginalized groups within the campus community as a means to change the campus paradigm to be more accessible to everyone. This strategy has potential to be effective in that it incorporates an accountability structure to encourage non-discriminatory behavior.

Of course, implementing strategic changes to counteract systems of oppression within higher education, an institution which is inherently exclusive to marginalized communities is easier spelled out in an acronym than implemented in real-time. This sentiment holds true for PCC. Despite budding efforts like the Creating Inclusive, Socially Just Campus Environments training, PCC is complicit in perpetuating the economic disparity of white supremacy. In the face of severe budget cuts

 

PCC has had near double digit percentage declines in enrollment this past year, and currently has around a 17% graduation rate for white students and only 7% for Black students.

 

It’s obvious that if comprehensive plans that address social justice and sustainability are to be effectively implemented at PCC, they must be developed and enforced on a much broader scale as well.

The Creating Socially Just Campus Environments training also spent time examining 6 benchmarks which were developed by Bailey Jackson, Ed.D., and Rita Hardiman, Ed.D . These benchmarks were created to outline what a true multi-cultural organization should look like. It was noted during this segment of the training that there is hardly an institution in the US that meets Jackson and Hardiman’s criteria. The same can be said for organizations within PCC.

The educational packet provided at the training contained 50 pages worth of comprehensive information. It is loaded with insightful exercises, definitions, examples, and actions that would apply to any organization wishing to dismantle systems of oppression.

While the training made me feel optimistic about the direction PCC is heading as an institution, it’s important to remember that it takes more than one training to unlearn a lifetime of conditioning under a white supremacist heteropatriarchal society. Many people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ in attendance felt frustrated by the amount of attendees who appeared to leave the training with a sense of completion and accomplishment, when really the ideas presented that day just scratch the surface of complex social issues.

PCC has an incredible opportunity, as it’s in the process of re-assessing its accreditation structure. PCC is the largest 2-year institution as well as the largest college by attendance in the state of Oregon, so it has the potential to become a model for practicing the guidelines of these trainings and conducting all future planning through a racial equity and environmental justice lens. PCC is taking notable steps in this direction already, during the redesign process of the HT building at Sylvania campus for example, they are guiding their efforts through a critical race theory and sustainability lense. On top of that, Facilities Management Services now has an Equity and Diversity Council.

To learn more about the Creating Inclusive, Socially Just Campus Environments training and the work Jamie Washington, Ph.D and Kathy Obear, Ed.D are doing please tune in to episode #23 of PCC, Sustain Me! Where I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing them at the conclusion of this event.

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