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L-R: Dr Don Perlgut, Community Colleges Australia; Dr Ricky Shabazz, President, San Diego City College; and Alante, a science student at San Diego City College. Image: CCA

Diversity more than a multicoloured student body: US community college leader

The American TV show Community, which aired between 2009 and 2015, humourised the experiences of community college students. The usual stereotypes – a single mother, a former drug addict, a film student – featured, yet the show gave them a depth usually not afforded to such characters. For example, the high school quarterback and prom king, Troy Barnes (played by Donald Glover), wasn’t just depicted as an arrogant jock. In the show, his true self is revealed as a sensitive, goofy nerd. He takes dancing classes, admits he is afraid of centipedes, and dumps a girlfriend because she called his best friend “weird”.

It’s this diversity of humanity that Dr Ricky Shabazz, the President of an actual community college, wants to underscore. In Sydney to headline the Community Colleges Australia Conference, Shabazz, who leads San Diego City College, says it is not enough for higher education institutions to have diversity policies: they must reflect them in their hiring practices and subject offerings.

This dovetails with his presentation topic, ‘Achieving student success for disadvantaged college students’, in that it models inclusion and achievement among this demographic. Many of the College’s 17,000 students are members of an ethic minority, and a third of them come from families who earn less than US$20,000 per year.

He also told Campus Review that not enough people are aware of the value a vocational education delivers. “In order to built a spaceship, you still need machinists,” he said. Further, he asserted that in terms of earning potential and student loans, a community college education stands up against a university one.

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