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College of the Siskiyous wants to be as inclusive as possible

Mike Meyer
COS instructor Ron Slabbinck

Accounts and video of ill-treatment to people of color, along with stories about protests in the streets, is breaking into the status quo at institutions around the state. News articles about banks, universities, cities and transit agencies describe a movement toward awareness, and change, along with a harder look inward at attitudes that signal inequity.

The College of the Siskiyous is also taking a closer look, focusing on its “agendas, discussions, and actions through a lens of equity and social justice,” according to Dr. Ron Slabbinck, president of the academic senate. 

A broadened focus on equity and social justice along with new course offerings in ethnic studies were the topics of a report Slabbinck gave the COS Board of Trustees during their monthly meeting last Tuesday evening.

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“Institutional discrimination and implicit bias exist. Discrimination and prejudices create privileges for some and disadvantages for others,” Slabbinck said in written comments, citing a 2020 task force on inclusion and social justice at the California Community Colleges.

The COS professor, who did doctoral work in social justice, provided an example that illuminates the academic senate’s focus on equity. 

“Anywhere in the U.S., if I walk into a bank, whether they know me or not, people look then go about their business. But people not like me, when they walk into a bank, the teller might move a hand close to the alarm button, or the manager looks to see if the security cameras are on.” 

Ingrained bias can be subtler to see for white educators. For one thing, the system of education came out of the white European culture, it was developed with an “industrial” design, with schedules, bells for recess, buzzers for lunch. The system suits people who respond promptly – “people with that kind of mindset.” But not everyone has it. 

The material that educators use in the classroom is another area of scrutiny. “Content and curriculum is heavily designed and focused by the people writing the text books. Content for the first 100 years was written through the lens of educated white males,” Slabbinck said. 

“So, when educators discuss native people, brown and black people, Hispanics, the role of women or LGBTQ - without understanding what it means to walk through life through those experiences, it makes it hard for there to be meaningful dialogue.” 

Slabbinck said the ethnic studies courses the senate is considering will “offer students the opportunity to walk in other people’s shoes, to understand the experiences of historically marginalized people. 

“I’ve been greatly influenced by the experiences my parents had, and they were influenced by experiences their parents had. 

“Ethnic studies exposes students to the history that marginalized people have. It also allows them to understand how we got to where we are today.”

Ethnic studies will be required for students to graduate from a California State University. The COS faculty senate is looking at course work the college can fore that is aligned with CSU requirements. 

The ability to have meaningful dialogue that resonate with students also rests with  the board of trustees. Slabbinck’s report during the Tuesday meeting included news that members of the Senate executive committee would be reaching out to individual board members “to facilitate lines of communication.” 

On Wednesday Slabbinck clarified, saying, “ties to equity and social justice issues surround us. Decisions on budgets, hiring positions, and anything trustees vote on” can have an impact. 

“When the new residential lodges for student housing are built, about 200 of the 325 students living in them will be brown and black kids who come to COS from urban areas around the country. You page through the college catalog, look through (pictures of) every employee at the college, you find that fewer than 10 people are non-white.

“How does this look to a student who shows up in Siskiyou County pursuing his or her dream and who realizes, ‘there’s no one who looks like me?’ It’s an question of, are we providing an environment where they can feel like there’s someone they think they can go to?

Slabbinck said that with a broader awareness, supporting students is less an issue of the student being “college-ready” than of the college being “student-ready.”

“We need to serve the population of students who come here,” he said, adding, “this conversation is an ongoing discussion, It isn’t going away.”