Transformation and Change: The Cultural Breadth Requirement at Santa Ana College
"AT SANTA ANA COLLEGE, DIVERSITY IS TRANSPARENT AND FULLY INTEGRATED," SAYS ITS PRESIDENT, RITA CEPEDA. "IT IS AN INSTITUTION THAT HAS LONG SINCE MOVED FROM TOLERANCE OF DIVERSITY TO CELEBRATION. BECAUSE IT LIVES THE EXPERIENCE AS OPPOSED TO PREACHING IT, IT HAS NORMALIZED DIVERSITY." FOUNDED IN 1915, SANTA ANA COLLEGE IS THE FOURTH OLDEST COMMUNITY COLLEGE IN CALIFORNIA AND CURRENTLY ENROLLS 30,000 STUDENTS. DESPITE ITS LARGE SIZE, IT IS A NATIONAL MODEL OF AN ENGAGED, STUDENT-CENTERED INSTITUTION WHERE INNOVATION AND COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY ARE PART OF THE INSTITUTIONAL CULTURE.
John Nixon, the Vice President of Academic Affairs and long-time, much respected spearhead of institutional transformation, talks of Santa Ana's "continuous recreation of ourselves as a community." As he explains it, "It is the act of redefining one's own sense of place and identity in the community through understanding and embracing diversity that leads us to the success and celebration of American democracy and pluralism." In a dynamic partnership that has lasted a decade, Nixon works hand in glove with his colleague, Vice President of Student Services, Sara Lundquist. The physical symbolism of their integrated leadership team approach to sustained, pervasive change is represented by the fact their offices are located side by side; they actually share a wall.
Unlike the majority of diversity requirements, Santa Ana's requirement includes two components: one addresses diversity within a U.S. context and the other diversity within an international context. Students must fulfill at least one of the two options. Many students choose to take courses in both. Focused on the study of historically excluded groups in the United States, the deliberately interdisciplinary courses for the Ethnic Studies/Women's Studies diversity requirement "assist students to deal constructively with issues of difficult differences and to develop respect for and become aware of the views, interactions, and contributions of these ethnic groups and women to U.S. society and culture."
The courses that fulfill the International Perspective component of the Cultural Breadth General Education Requirement emphasize "global perspectives in a cultural context" and how culture influences environment, behavior, structure, and function of society. These courses are expected to introduce students to a multinational perspective.
Throughout the past decade of change that led to these requirements and refined them along the way, the journey was not always smooth. Despite there being a majority students of color at the institution, the faculty and administration are predominantly white. Some faculty were resistant and as one person put it, "Dialogue was not cordial at first." As international was added to the mix, there was additional controversy that sometimes became heated and personal. A number of approaches helped build consensus.
The first was the collaborative inspired leadership of top administrators, especially the trio of the President, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Vice President of Student Services. Part of their success in turn was their commitment to work with faculty. They understood the importance of faculty-driven transformation, especially in curricular matters, and the administration worked hard to provide the resources and incentives to help the faculty and staff deepen their expertise as necessary.
Santa Ana has, therefore, aggressively sought external funding for many of their innovations and has had enormous success in large part because they continue to deliver on their promise of reform and change. The funds are reinvested in faculty and staff development as well as community partnerships and student leadership initiatives, all of which has contributed to an integrated approach to institutional change and high motivation among recipients.
What also has kept faculty and student affairs motivation high is the encouragement from the top to experiment. "The administration protects new programs and gives them time to develop, even time to make mistakes and figure out how to correct them," explained one faculty member. As a result, the energy level was extremely high at every meeting I attended with faculty and staff alike enthusiastically describing their own particular efforts to integrate new thinking and new pedagogy. They did so with a demonstrable commitment to evaluating the impact of their changes and a clear focus on continual improvement.
In addition to the administrative leadership and concrete alignment of resources with stated goals, resistance was assuaged when they restructured staff training to focus on student needs. What would contribute to the academic success of students? An example of this kind of emphasis, Santa Ana's academic skills center is called The Success Center. Assisting in the focus on success, the Executive Director of the Research Office has a collegial relationship with faculty members. Her office routinely generates useful annual reports that help keep everyone's eyes on student success.
Making Diversity Pervasive
In addition to relying on a diversity requirement, Santa Ana has opted to infuse diversity across the curriculum. It has done so triumphantly rather than modestly. The faculty has moved to requiring that every new course be responsible for answering the question, "How does this course respond to issues of multiculturalism? (e.g., readings, techniques for differing learning styles, specific topics, specific assignments)." This strategy has been especially necessary because the impressive general education diversity requirement only pertains to those students who graduate with an associate degree from Santa Ana. For the vast numbers of other students who transfer on to four-year institutions, Santa Ana must negotiate an entirely different set of requirements. Driven by such external forces, Santa Ana College can nonetheless be assured that even without a diversity requirement, its students gain a deep understanding of diversity. Even courses without diversity in the title have had to incorporate dimensions of diversity issues to their courses.
It helped explain why a student looked puzzled and said upon inquiry, "I don't know what the diversity requirement is at this school." He didn't know because he was in the transfer track that doesn't require the Cultural Breadth courses. But when he described his courses, he was in an interdisciplinary studies linked set of courses that integrated comparative world views. His student colleague who was similarly unaware of the diversity requirement because she too was meeting California State University's requirements for transfer students described her current course load as including Mexican American History, World Religions, and World Music. As President Cepeda had said, "diversity is transparent and integrated."
That transparency is not lodged simply in the curriculum. When one looks up "diversity" on Santa Ana's web site, thirty-six links pop up. In addition to a strong overriding mission linking diversity and education, Santa Ana has a Cross Cultural Center, Student Clubs, Service Learning opportunities for credit and non-credit, and an active Associated Student Government that has led some diversity initiatives on campus. Diversity is fully integrated into Santa Ana's arts programs and the school just added a new Asian American Studies course and a cultural borders course.
Santa Ana has long distinguished itself as having one of the most innovative and sustained partnerships between K-16 segments. They have managed to streamline the pipeline and make major inroads in increasing the percentage of Latinos/as going on to get a baccalaureate degree. Even though they are already a majority minority in terms of student racial demographics, they have instituted an outreach to African Americans who have slowly been squeezed out of the Santa Ana district. Santa Ana doesn't underestimate the power of having a strong diversity requirement on the books. But it knows that while necessary, a diversity requirement is not sufficient. For Santa Ana, diversity is affirmed in so many different ways that, as President Cepeda has said, they have normalized it.
For more information about Santa Ana College, see www.sacollege.org.
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