Integrating Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Capital Community College

INTRODUCTION

More than ever, Capital Community College is embracing its diversity and is working to integrate approaches to equity and inclusion at all levels of the college. Reflecting our Capital City, Capital Community College is one the most diverse colleges in New England.

Most of our students, nearly 40 percent, come from Hartford. Thirty-six 36 percent of our students, including Africans and West Indian, identify as Black or African American. (Hartford is home to one of the largest West Indian population outside the Caribbean.) We are one of the area’s first Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI), a designation signifying a student body comprised of more than 25 percent Hispanic or Latino descent. Nearly 5 percent identify as Asian. Students come from approximately 50 different countries, most are Spanish-speaking, from South America and the Caribbean.  The other students are from the Middle East, then Asia and Europe.

Capital is home to the oldest and largest academic English as a Second Language program in Greater Hartford.  This reflects the fact that A language other than English is spoken at home in more than 40 percent of Hartford households.

Our students do not fit the traditional, college-age student profile: nearly 31 percent are between 25-34 years old and 25 percent are 35 years old or older.  Women represent 70 percent of the student body.

According to the 2017 Census estimates, the median income in Hartford was $33,841.  More than 30 percent live in poverty.  It is no surprise that many of our students come from low-income families.  Many struggle with non-academic barriers that prevent them from attending school full-time, persisting and doing well academically.  A 2018 survey of Capital Community College students revealed that, despite its relatively low-cost tuition, almost half our students felt that lack of finances may prevent them from staying in college. Nearly 30 percent identified caring for dependents as a barrier.

Given that we are a community college, we are an open-access institution, accepting all students who apply. Many of our students are first-generation college students: they often do not have the traditional knowledge base or supports from which most college students benefit.  Individuals who advance from a high school diploma to a two-year degree can achieve a livable income: that significant step can lead them out of generational poverty.  Therefore, Capital Community College is poised to play a significant role in reducing the severe economic disparity that plagues our city, region and state.

Unfortunately, most community college students at Capital, or nationally, do not graduate.  For all these reasons, issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are important aspects in understanding the students we serve and to developing strategies so they gain access to college, grow academically, graduate and ultimately, to thrive.

The vision for the proposed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Center is a space in which College departments and community partner agencies work collaboratively to serve, educate, empower, and support members of our college community on their unique journeys to becoming who they aspire to be (Maslow’s self-actualization).

To support Capital’s mission to prepare individuals for transfer education and careers, the Center is a critical space where complementary efforts to improve retention and persistence can take place in both meaningful and transformative ways. Programs and services offered through the Center are selected with intention. Informed by scholarship, culturally-relevant praxis, and strength-based approaches, the Center will meet and affirm students where they are currently, and work with students to develop a plan that addresses their basic personal needs, as well as their academic and career goals.

As an institutional initiative, College departments and student organizations may work through the Center to host events that serve the mission of the Center.  This includes, but is not limited to, educational forums, student organizational meetings, guest lecturers, and other special events.

Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate.  The goal is to create a center that serves that purpose.

A promising model to help address these needs is the “Single Stop” center (singlestopusa.org) approach that provides holistic support around food resources, health insurance, legal and financial assistance including tax preparation.  These centers aim to alleviate non-academic “stressors” that can hinder students’ academic success and degree completion.  A significant aspect of the Single Stop program is that it helps to holistically support students’ success by extending service eligibility to their families.  Initially the college would focus on the study body, and consider extension of services to staff, faculty and community members.