The Capital Community College Equity and Inclusion Center has its origins in our Social Services Degree program (SSD). Within the SSD program, students are required to take 4 courses that include service learning (SL), a type of pedagogy where learning occurs through experiential community opportunities. Service learning courses include Contemporary Social Issues (Soc 201), Community Organization (Soc 285), Group Dynamics (Psy 105) and Introduction to Social Welfare Policy (Soc 235). Amidst this curriculum, the community becomes the classroom. As a result, students engage in research and community needs assessment. Over the last decade, students have taken an interest in working towards improving our college community. As change agents, they have identified problems affecting the campus including issues of basic human needs such as poverty, hunger, food insecurity, and homelessness. In an effort to tackle these problems, students conducted a number of food and clothing drives. Despite addressing immediate basic necessities, the interventions were not institutionalized. Under the leadership of SSD faculty, in 2015, the Social Services Club was formed by Community Organization students. The club’s main goals were to create a place where students could complete their service learning hours while focusing on issues affecting CCC students. Three years later, the club expanded to become the Social Justice Club, by including Criminal Justice (CJ) degree students seeking to address disparities. Under the leadership of the new club president, an agreement was signed with Foodshare in 2018 and the CCC campus food pantry was institutionalized under student activities. The Social Justice Club members and faculty within both CJ and SSD recognized that there were other areas of need that prevented students from achieving success. Thus, work needed to be done to bring additional resources to the campus. Consequently, faculty member, Michelle White reached out to organizations such as Community Renewal Team (CRT), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), Community Health Services (CHS), Hartford Behavioral Health (HBH), and Interval House. These agencies were delighted to cooperate with the college in whatever capacity they could to promote student success and retention.
Simultaneously, faculty working with Carl Guerriere, Language Coordinator, began to explore the possibility of creating a physical space for the college’s virtual Center of Language and Culture. They envisioned a new center that would further promote and enhance language and cultural education, and provide support for the college’s considerable and growing immigrant or non-native, English-speaking student population. In Fall 2017, 310 students were enrolled in English as a Second Language courses representing nearly 10 percent of the entire student body.
As a result of many student inquiries, the Language Coordinator also envisioned the creation of an immigrant employment center that would be part of a network of immigrant services provided by community partners. Numerous students have come to the college with degrees from other countries, but end up underemployed. They cannot obtain meaningful work in their respective fields because of limited English proficiency and/or they possess credentials that are not accepted in this country. These individuals often falter because they are unfamiliar with our educational and employment policies and systems. Nationally, with the assistance of several immigrant organizations, colleges and other community organizations have established “immigrant welcome centers” to assist immigrants in managing the maze to meaningful employment. With the support of the college’s administration, Mr. Guerriere began researching the concept and has spoken to community members (Hartford Public Library, Capital Workforce Partners, and CREC) including the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving about the concept and possibility of obtaining a planning grant to address these issues. Such a center has the potential to assist a substantial population in the community. According to 2013-2017 Census data, 15% of Hartford County residents and 26 % of Hartford residents are foreign born. In Hartford County, 25% speak a language other than English at home compared to 44.3% in Hartford.
In July 2018 Dr. Duncan Harris became the new CEO of the Capital Community College. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Harris spoke with Ms. White and Mr. Guerriere about their projects. Dr. Harris, former Dean of Students at Manchester Community College, was fully aware of the academic and non-academic barriers that prevent community college students from being successful in their pursuit of post-secondary credentials. Consequently, the idea of possibly combining the efforts under a single initiative, the Center for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion was advanced. Dr. Harris contracted two doctoral students in Educational Leadership from the University of Connecticut to join two social work students from the University of Saint Joseph and Capital Community College staff and faculty in this effort. Space on the third floor of the college has been identified as the future home of the EDI Center. Work has begun to outfit the space that consists of a suite of offices and a common area. Carl Guerriere, Language Coordinator has been named Director of the EDI Center initiative and given a course release to move the project forward.
Dr. Harris believes that an organization that prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion creates an environment that respects and values individual difference along varying dimensions. These efforts will be reflected in organizational mission, vision, and values; incorporated into strategic plans; and promoted throughout the organization. With the advent of new college leadership, the current strategic plan with recruitment and retention strategies are being developed. He has pledged that the Equity Center will be an integral part of those plans.