david johnsAfrican American college students from around the region explored the opportunities and challenges they face in higher education at the White House Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted September 30, 2016 at Skyline College.

The summit, co-hosted by the National Council on Black American Affairs, was one of a nationwide series providing a platform for experts and Black students to be unapologetic about their needs and the accomplishments they have made in higher education. Students, faculty and staff from across the region attended to listen to stories, and tell their own, with the goal of exploring what it means to be a black student in today’s colleges and universities.

“The toll it takes to exceed expectations can be heavy because you are expected to represent your entire culture,” said Ben Nash, a student at Chabot College in Hayward.

panel studentsEach panelist had an opportunity to answer a variety of questions focusing on their individual experience in discussions coordinated by director of the federal initiative David Johns an Skyline College Dean Lasana Hotep.

Speaking on what he needed to succeed, Robert Pinkney of Chabot College expressed himself on an emotional level: “We need love, care and most of all, authenticity to feel supported.”

Authenticity proved to be a key theme of the Summit. Peppered with frustrations and preconceived notions alongside bright hopes and affirmations of work well done, the informal format invited speakers from the audience to add their voice to the whole, building up the conversation.

“We need to be mindful of social and emotional development to make our students whole,” said Johns. Building on this point, one student from the audience said, “I need you to accept me, and let me speak my truth and acknowledge my truth for what it is.”

president's councilWith this truth came several acknowledgements: that more needs to be done to create safe and equitable learning spaces where all students feel supported; that this work will take the effort of students and educators working together; and that this work is often being done best at community colleges yet too often community college is presented as a secondary choice.

“We need high school counselors to show students that community colleges are good opportunities,” said Ben Nash. “You become the person you are going to be for the rest of your life in community college.”

Perspectives like Nash’s are essential to better understanding how to help students who may feel disenfranchised by the traditional educational path.

Overall, the consensus that drove much of the conference was the need for trust, honesty and acknowledgment – and that we must both listen with greater intent, and take action with greater effect.

Dean Hotep summed it up nicely: “We need to shift from focusing on the WHAT we are teaching, to the WHO we are teaching.”

Article by Connor Fitzpatrick