The term “equity” (I prefer the term “racial equity”) reverberates throughout academia, and yet, the practice remains elusive for far too many institutions. But words become actions, ideas manifest as tangible events, and change unfolds as we mobilize. Today, I invite you to be part of an incredibly promising movement —Black Student Success Week (BSSW), which is held annually during the last week of April.
BSSW was founded in spring 2020 for California Community Colleges by a collaboration of individuals and organizations, including myself. Since its inception, I have served as the chair of the BSSW planning committee. As I reflect on BSSW, the original goal was to support advocacy for Black Student Success and to bring to light the funding disparities between the systems of higher education in California as it relates to Black students. Then due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the original goal was shifted to the online environment.
It started with just hosting #TheBlackHour webinar every day at 12:00 p.m. via Zoom, and holding meetings with our statewide elected officials. Then BSSW expanded to provide support to colleges by meeting with their points of contact to support programming of events on their campuses. In 2022, we expanded by adding #TheAfterParty each day so participants could discuss #TheBlackHour topic for that day, and how they can take the strategies discussed back to their institutions.
In 2023, we added #TheStudentHour, offered in the evening to support prospective students. We also opened #TheBlackHour event to out-of-state colleges through our partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges. BSSW is a movement that has been embraced within California and by many colleges nationwide.
You may ask, “Why BSSW?” The answer is simple yet profound: Our Black students cannot wait. It’s time to be unapologetic in our approach, to demand more, and to provide more. Did you know community college enrollment for Black learners has dropped by 26% from 2011 to 2019? This 26% drop represents a pre-pandemic loss of almost 300,000 students. When you add in the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black community college enrollment in 2020 dropped by another 100,000 students, we are looking at a Black learner enrollment akin to 2000-01. This means declines today are really closer to a 44% drop nationally in Black community college enrollments.
The urgency of this movement cannot be understated, and we need unapologetic leaders to make this work a reality. BSSW is an excellent first step in demonstrating an institution’s commitment to Black Learner Success. That’s because BSSW is not just an event but a clarion call to institutionalize success for Black students, and once again to review and dismantle the system, policies, and practices that are barriers to success.
So how do we do it? We are all working hard to help our students, faculty and staff as the fall terms are just starting, and April 2024 may seem far away. But I urge you to consider committing to implementing BSSW at your institution now, using the programming tool kit below to help you get it started. The BSSW 2024 already has a theme which is “Building a Better Future Together: The Urgency is Now.”
Our BSSW planning committee members have curated a comprehensive Practitioners Programming Toolkit that acts as your initial blueprint for action. These resources cover many events, from panels discussing remote learning challenges to financial literacy and entrepreneurship workshops. The toolkit also includes crucial focus areas like Advocacy Day activities, Department of Labor initiatives, and strategies to diversify faculty ranks.
How to Implement BSSW
- Adapt the Toolkit: While we have created robust tools, please feel free to adapt or modify them. Make them locally and regionally relevant, addressing the unique issues your Black students and community face.
- Engage the Campus: Town Hall meetings and workshops can educate and empower students to advocate for themselves and their communities.
- Collaborate and Network: Use BSSW as an opportunity to build bridges between students and programs that need more Black representation. Demonstrate to your Black students and prospective students (I have more thoughts on prospective Black students, and I will save it for another day) that your institution will support them in their academic pathways.
- Diversify the Faculty: Spotlight those doing the work to help your campuses diversify their faculty. Share these best practices and provide platforms for these changemakers.
- Review Structures, Policies, Procedures, and Budgets: Review and develop a plan of action to dismantle the system, policies, and practices that are barriers to success.
- Endorse Advocacy: Engage your Associated Student Government to champion Black programming on campus, statewide, and nationally, and engage your governing board, faculty, and staff to continue pressuring for increased funding for higher education and especially for Black Student Success.
Why You Should Join
Being part of BSSW means aligning your institutional policies and practices with a vision that uplifts Black students. It’s not just about the week but about laying the groundwork for a sustainable future where Black student success is not an exception but the norm.
A Call to Action
Now is the time to be loud, intentional, and unapologetic in our drive for change. This isn’t a moment; it’s a movement.
If you want to explore how to make Black Student Success Week a reality at your institution, I urge you to reach out directly. Let’s not just talk about equity; let’s make it a lived experience for our Black students.
For more information on Black Student Success Week and the past events, please visit https://linktr.ee/cablackstudents