After the 2016 presidential election results were called and a campaign season that has been described as “divisive” and “nasty” came to a close and many people found themselves unsure if they have a place in this country’s future, the Contra Costa Community College District wanted to reassure all of its community members that the district’s commitment to them had not been altered, despite what is going on nationally.
Two separate, yet similarly worded, emails signed by the District’s three college presidents and District Chancellor Helen Benjamin were sent out to students and employees Thursday, Nov. 10 to address concerns about how the election would affect them— particularly with regard to equity, inclusion and equality for students and society.
“What has not changed is the foundation our district is built upon. We welcome and support diversity, and we hold a space for students, faculty and staff with a wide range of history, experiences and perspectives to engage in a civilized and peaceful manner,” said the email addressed to district employees. “This is not only a core value of our district but an aspiration embedded in our vision and mission to serve our students and communities.”
The district leaders also wanted students to know that all the previously offered programs and assistance will still be available to them.
“As public institutions of higher education, we will continue our work to ensure every one of you has full access to our colleges and centers, as well as to the support needed for you to succeed in your studies,” said the email addressed to students. “We are also deeply committed to protecting the rights of our undocumented students to attend our institutions and receive state aid under the provisions of AB 540, enacted in 2001, and the California Dream Act, signed into law in 2011.”
These pledges are reflected in the district board’s “Diversity” and “Equity in Student Achievement” policies, which are meant to make sure all areas of the three-college district are welcoming and able to help everyone succeed, and the email sent to district employees urged all staff, faculty and students to implement and follow them.
Despite the emails being sent out district wide, Los Medanos College President Bob Kratochvil wanted to specifically address his college’s concerns directly and calm the tensions and strong emotions this campaign season has created. He urged students to take time to reflect and come together so LMC can move forward.
“We need to recognize that many among us are deeply troubled by much of the messaging — around tolerance and divisiveness — that seemed to emerge throughout this election, and that we have students and colleagues who may feel anxious concerned or even fearful about the future,” he said. “It is important for us to hear and support each other.”
Kratochvil stressed the need to adhere to the college’s culture of respect, inclusion, diversity and academic freedom. Several activities aimed at upholding these principles were held the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday following the election — a “safe space” rally (see accompanying story), a “Place to Talk” event and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) informational workshops — and he said similar future events were in the developmental planning stages.
At the “A Place to Talk” event, put on by Student Life Tuesday, Nov. 15, members of the LMC community were offered an opportunity to talk about how the election was affecting them.
“There has been a lot of frustration and anger, sadness and all types of different emotions that were stirred up throughout this week and last week so we wanted to provide an opportunity for all of you to get together and really to express how you’re feeling,” said Student Life Coordinator John Nguyen to attendees.
ALLIES President Akila Briggs, who is also a student ambassador and LMC Library worker, chose to shut off all of her electronics and go to sleep at about 7 or 9 p.m. on the night of the election because she didn’t want to watch the various states bounce back and forth between the presidential candidates, but when she awoke the next morning, she said found herself in a very different world.
“I remember coming into work and as soon as I got here my boss gave me a hug and she said that ‘you check off a lot of boxes of the things that Trump supporters are against,’” said Briggs. “It’s a very white-power type of society where if you’re a minority, that’s automatically one strike against you, if you’re a woman that’s another strike against you [and] if you’re LGBT that’s three strikes, you’re out.”
Briggs explained, although she was experiencing fear and confusion, being on campus helped.
“I really did feel safe here at LMC knowing that there were so many people that did care,” she said.
Some students used the moment to express their frustrations with the country’s failure to deal with certain issues until recently and also how their views of the U.S. have been altered.
“I am disappointed in not just people who voted in Trump, but a lot of people in general. In how people decide to pretend that these problems don’t exist because they don’t want to address the problems that we’re facing now,” said LMC student Fernando Hidalgo-Chinchilla. “We’re always bragging about how great of a country America is, how we have all these values, how we’re a diverse community — and we’re realizing that a lot of that is a lie.”
LMC student Giovanni Gonzalez said he thinks it is going to be a tough four years.
“I feel like I’m disassociating. I don’t even know what’s real,” said Gonzalez.
“[Trump] becoming president … reaffirms the racists, it reaffirms the homophobic people. He played on white nationalism, he played on white supremacy and he got the vote.
But DSPS worker Kenney Purizaga, even though he agrees that Trump is not good for the country, has a different vision for the future.
“For the next four years it’s going to be the season of love. We have to rely on each other and we have to have each other’s back,” said Purizaga. “Whatever may happen, just know that … we’re a community and that’s what we’re here for.”
Hidalgo-Chinchilla echoed these sentiments.
“It’s okay to feel despair, but don’t fall into it, we’re all scared, we’re all worried, but we have to keep going forward. If we give up, that’s when us minorities are truly defeated,” said Hidalgo-Chinchilla.
Although this isn’t the first time or the last the college, community or country has faced challenges, Kratochvil, too, offered words of encouragement in his email and suggested the LMC take this time to reflect
“We will get through it over time, through dialogue and understanding and with healing,” he said. “We can begin to come together around our collective commitment to serving students and supporting one another, by rising above intolerance and embracing inclusion.”
At the “A Place to Talk” event, Dean of Student Success Dave Belman said he wanted LMC to be a safe space for all of the 10-12 thousand students who attend classes at its campuses.
“I do think that we have an obligation as a college to educate, and part of that is about challenging what we’re seeing in our world. I don’t want to sweep this under the rug as an institution,” said Belman. “I hope that we keep talking about it.”
A full version of the district’s diversity and student equity policies can be found at http://www.4cd.edu/gb/policies-procedures/board/BP1023.pdf and
http://www.4cd.edu/gb/policies-procedures/board/BP2059.pdf, and other local election results are displayed in the accompanying graphic.