The presentations from Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer (CEIO) candidates at Grand Rapids Community College continued on Wednesday, Oct. 3, with Jessica Cruz, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Northern Michigan University.
Cruz’s presentation answered the prompt given to all finalists for the CEIO position which asked the candidates:
“In our nation and on our campuses, diversity, equity and inclusion are in the spotlight. Please share what you believe are unique opportunities and challenges that urban community colleges like GRCC face as they strive to embrace these ideals, foster success and serve the greater community. How would you as GRCC’s CEIO address these opportunities and challenges?”
In an effort to introduce herself to the audience, Cruz began her presentation by showing pictures of her family and childhood in Puerto Rico, where Cruz grew up for a portion of her life.
“I want to start by honoring my roots, so you’ll see a couple slides that talk about where I come from to my positionality,” Cruz said. “Really that’s a piece that I put out there because I don’t truly believe in… notions of objectivity. I think we’re all influenced by our experiences and I just put it out there. ‘Ok, these are the few experiences that I’ve had, this is my positionality, this is the theoretical training that I’ve had.’”
The challenges Cruz highlighted in her presentation were the declining enrollment rates of high schools and colleges across the nation, the political landscape and its recent polarization, competition from for-profit institutions, developmental education and leadership opportunities within our college for faculty and staff.
As for the opportunities, Cruz noted her plans for the CEIO position by highlighting some of her own work already in areas of place-based community-driven housing; the middle college program GRCC is participating in with area high schools; public-private-tribal university partnerships and filling the gaps to prepare the workforce with plans like the Governor’s Marshall Talent Plan.
“I like culturally relevant pedagogy… so I try to do everything with that cultural sensitivity,” Cruz said. “I want to make sure that’s connected to the experiences of the students that we’re serving.”
Cruz spoke to her experience with creating enrollment opportunities at NMU with different programs she implemented to aid in enrollment and student engagement in the community and spoke to their success.
“What I also talk about is sustained engagement,” Cruz said. “Not like one-time things. I think we have to have long-term relationships and long-term initiatives.”
Place-based community-driven pathways, as Cruz referred to one of the program models she implemented at NMU, is another opportunity for an increase in enrollment and to have a strong presence in the community and build on those relationships.
“I call it that because we’re going into the community, right,” Cruz said. “This has to be a two-way street. We can’t just sit here and expect the students to come to us, we have to go to them… So I created a program called “Aim North” and I did that by going to Detroit, following up on the work that we had done from Reimagine STEM.”
As CEIO at GRCC, Cruz said she would be focused on creating programs for students that would aid in their ability to get hired after their college career ends while engaging in the community through cohorts that relate to their chosen area of study.
“What I’d like to do now… let’s say we have three, four or five of these (programs) going and we have students coming to campus like from these different communities. I want to organize them around academic disciplines so that you have community-based cohorts that are directly connected to the academic discipline… And then you work with that group. You provide some professional development, perhaps Toastmaster Certification, so that when you’re meeting with them they’re working towards something tangible that goes on their resume. That doesn’t add time to the degree, that doesn’t take away from their financial aid, etcetera.”
Cruz also touched on equity and inclusion in the workplace and noted its importance not just for students but also for faculty and staff.
“Oftentimes when we talk about diversity in hiring, or even admissions in higher education, there’s this perception, misperception, that’s really grounded in deficit thinking that said, ‘Ok, well you’re only here because you’re black or Latino or whatever it may be you didn’t really earn your spot here, etcetera.’ One in Michigan, with Prop 2 the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, you just can’t do that. You can’t consider race, ethnicity, etcetera, in hiring contracts, financial aid and admissions. But aside from that, even if that wasn’t the case, we have very strong standards and expectations so you have the credentials in place just because there’s a person of color or whoever that might be in that position doesn’t mean they didn’t meet the credentials and criteria.”
For these challenges in the workplace, Cruz has a plan in place to recruit qualified individuals, regardless of racial or cultural background, in the community. She also noted the importance of looking in unexpected places for recruitment.
“The strategies that we use for students I think also work for faculty and staff,” Cruz said. “So if we’re talking about being intentional and going out there and recruiting folks then we can’t just sit here, post it and expect them to come. You have to go into the spaces where communities are and promote there. You have to be, I think, willing to go places that may not look like you’re there to recruit but the point is you build the relationship and then over time things will come.”
The presentation concluded with questions from the audience. First up was Michael Vargo, dean of the school of arts and sciences, with a question about funding the proposed initiatives as CEIO at GRCC.
“A couple of times in your slides you listed but didn’t talk about… shared revenue modeling to support your initiatives, and I just wondered what that meant,” Vargo said.
Cruz elaborated on her shared revenue modeling proposal for student programs that would help students in their academic programs and increase retention rates at the college.
“My thought there is I love grants,” Cruz said. “I love the funding that comes in from partnerships and things like that, but they’re not necessarily sustainable. You can have a grant this cycle and not be approved the next. So I like to try to come up with sustainable financial models for the work and with the shared revenue model what I’m thinking is if it’s working and we’re bringing in these groups, these cohorts, and we’re increasing enrollment, then how can we share that revenue that’s coming in to then support the students further, increase retention rates, etcetera.”
In a post-presentation interview with The Collegiate, Cruz added what she hopes to add to the CEIO position and to GRCCs student, faculty and staff community.
“What folks have been saying throughout the day is that this really, the fact that it’s now a reframed position – so it’s Executive Director of the Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion but it’s also Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer – so elevating it to have a strong focus on equity specifically I think is fantastic,” Cruz said. “So I want to make sure that we’re meeting the goals of the strategic plan, the college action projects. Again, I think that piece about accelerating success is fantastic. So let’s look at the data and figure out what strategies that are in place that are going well and figure out which ones we could improve and any new ideas people may have and run with it.”
The CEIO candidate community forum continues with a presentation by the final candidate, Salvador Lopez at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in room 124 of the Applied Technology Center. GRCC administration officials are asking for those who attend the community forums to provide their feedback on the candidates through a questionnaire about the presentation of each candidate. Physical and electronic copies of the questionnaire are due on Thursday, Oct. 11.