Anti-racism and community colleges: best practices for inclusion, social justice, and liberation

29th November 2021

Authors: Pamela Felder-Small, Ph.D. and Sydney Freeman, Jr., Ph.D., anti-racism, equity, and inclusion consultants

In higher education community colleges continue to reflect change on the front lines of regional developments.

In particular, their role as open access institutions represents a critical function in addressing national racial violence. Often being the conduit for large populations of students of varied racial/ethnic backgrounds, and socio-economic status, to have access to college pathways, the impact of national violence, like the killing of George Floyd hits home, literally.  George Floyd was the first of his siblings to attend a community college on a scholarship.

In response to national violence, faculty, administrators, students and activists within community colleges are organizing to formalize resistance against grave injustice and injury to their communities affected by racial violence. An approach to implementation of strategies to combat the racism at the core of this violence, is the development of anti racist practices and policies.

Scholarship focused on implementing systemic change, with an anti-racist approach, offers community college communities three important practices for promoting equity, inclusion and justice (Welton, Owens, Zamani-Gallaher, 2018).

First, how communities are informed about anti-racism, equity, and inclusion sets the tone for how they see their institutional context.  Welton, Owens and Gallaher find that the integration of anti-racist and organizational change resources provides balance in guiding the application of ideological concepts of race with the practice of implementing change.  For instance, for community colleges impacted by racial violence, they suggest that an assessment of current resources and supports available for students faculty and staff can improve anti-racist pedagogy, individual learning, and resistance.

Second, best practices for anti-racism and social justice prioritize making definitions clear and transparent to achieve institutional change.  The understanding of anti-racism as a act of resistance to discriminatory practices, fostered by racial injustice in society, is critical for taking action against racism.   Defining anti-racism must occur as act of self-learning in addition to being an institutional commitment to organizational change.  The definition of anti-racism must a core value that functions in every area of the community college.

Third, community colleges with a commitment to anti-racism represent some of the most vulnerable communities affected by racial violence.  Their role in resisting racial injustice is a critical function in higher education to inform processes of organizational change for anti-racism.  This representation can serve to be vital towards the practical realization of change for supporting guidance from national organizations like the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of of Community College Trustees and their goals for racial equity:

"The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT)  represent more than 1,000 community, junior, and technical colleges throughout the United States. Both AACC and ACCT  are committed to fostering the advancement of community colleges, in part, by applying principles of equity and diversity  within their organizations and promoting these values within member colleges."

For an instance, the work of anti-racism involves assessing current resources within community colleges to better understand pedagogy, individual learning, and resistance practices.  With the strong regional presence of community colleges, their anti-racism work contributes towards the potential for regional developments of organizational change for racial equity.

In conclusion, we believe for any of these strategies to be successful, community colleges will need the unwavering support of their boards of trustees, president or chancellor’s leadership team, faculty, staff, students and alumni. Budgets and policies must align with proclamations from institutional leaders that anti-racism is a core value. Courage is needed! No longer can we settle for hiring leaders at all levels of our institutions that are not culturally competent and see racial justice and liberation as a personal and professional imperative. Not having these skills and values should be a dealbreaker unless these leaders, faculty, and staff commit to ongoing rigorous professional development in these areas.

Community colleges are the ideal sub-sector within higher education to model and lead with innovative approaches and strategies to counteract the structural racial violence that impacts students of colour. Given our years of experience attending, researching and consulting for community colleges, we have learned if you communicate well what anti-racism is and how it can enhance the campus, provide adequate high-quality resources, and demonstrate in tangible ongoing ways that your institution is committed to anti-racist ideals that your community college will be best in class.

About the authors

Pamela Felder-Small



Pamela Felder-Small, Ph.D.
Primary Consultant for Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion for Springfield Technical Community College




Sydney Freeman



Sydney Freeman, Jr., Ph.D.
Consultant for Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion for Springfield Technical Community College