September 30, 2020, Jersey City, NJ – When Hudson County Community College (HCCC) President Dr. Chris Reber established the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (PACDEI) last fall, there was no way to foretell the enormously important role it would play during the challenging times of 2020.
Located in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the United States, Hudson County Community College students were born in 119 countries and speak 29 different languages. The College has been recognized with national awards for achieving equity in its educational programs and services – and in the administration and delivery of those programs and services – including the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 2015 Award of Excellence for Advancing Diversity, and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) 2016 Northeast Regional Equity Award. Additionally, the 2017 Equality of Opportunity Project ranked HCCC in the top five percent of 2,200 U.S. higher education institutions for supporting students’ upward economic and social mobility.
“When we ask students why they choose to study at Hudson County Community College, they almost always respond that it is because of our diversity,” Dr. Reber said. “That diversity, and the multitude of our community’s collective cultures, life experiences, skills and aspirations, are the very values and traits that empower us to be productive and caring members of our society. We are all proud of the differences we share, which are the foundation for the life-changing and transformational education we offer and the social mobility we provide to the communities we serve.”
PACDEI was instituted to develop new levels of understanding and access. “President Reber initiated PACDEI to build upon the College’s strengths and move the College community to become more transparent and inclusive,” said Yeurys Pujols, HCCC Executive Director of the North Hudson Campus, who co-chairs PACDEI with Lilisa Williams, HCCC Director of Faculty and Staff Development.
From the outset HCCC PACDEI was embraced by the entire College community. The Advisory Council was created with 38 members – students, community members, faculty, staff, administrators, and HCCC Trustees Bakari J. Lee, Esq. and Pamela Gardner – all of whom enthusiastically began working to fulfill the PACDEI mission and realize the charges set forth by the President and Trustees.
One of the first projects undertaken was a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) climate survey that was distributed to the entire College community. Responses from more than 800 individuals – students, trustees, faculty, staff and administrators – formed the basis for the development of three key goals:
(1) Supporting an inclusive culture of care at HCCC, including DEI infrastructure and training, programs and initiatives across the College;
(2) Weaving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion guidelines and best practices into recruitment and hiring practices, screening committee polices, promotional considerations, and succession planning; and,
(3) Creating clear and transparent processes for safety, security and incident reporting that are free of intimidation and respectful of confidentiality.
Three subcommittees are developing recommendations for achieving these goals with the full support of Dr. Reber, HCCC Executive Vice President and Provost, Dr. Eric Friedman, and the College’s entire leadership team.
That support distinguishes the HCCC PACDEI. “The buy-in from the Trustees, President and the College’s senior leadership is unique in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs,” Lilisa Williams stated. “As a result, all HCCC community members – including faculty, librarians, print shop, marketing, Student Government Association and many others – play a role in working to promote and ensure the success of PACDEI.”
Over the past year, PACDEI members have met every month, albeit virtually since April. As a result of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, PACDEI has hosted open forums to discuss racial tensions in the community, the nation and the world. These included a multiweek “Book Talk” that featured discussion of the New York Times best seller, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, led by the Director of the HCCC Center for Teaching, Learning and Innovation, Dr. Paula Roberson. There have been panels on “Students in the Movement” and “Conversations with Men of Hudson,” and virtual memorials honoring the late civil rights leader John Robert Lewis, and U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice and constitutional rights advocate Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
There have also been virtual presentations underscoring the importance of voting, entitled, “Myth Busting the Vote,” “The Importance of Voter Participation: Historical Reflections,” and “Voto Latino.” A new speaker’s series with HCCC STEM Professor Raffaella Pernice, “Our Stories Untold,” provides opportunities for community members to share personal and professional experiences and advice. Additionally, HCCC PACDEI, in partnership with Anne Frank Center USA, is presenting “Anne Frank: A Private Photo Album” with virtual tours of rarely seen family photos taken by Anne’s father, Otto Frank.
PACDEI is also planning, organizing and hosting new workshops, diversity and inclusion training, and programs that address current events and issues of systemic racism, police brutality, social injustice, and building more understanding within the College and throughout Hudson County.
“I am grateful to be a Hudson County Community College Trustee because the administration, the students and stakeholders understand the importance of a diverse, equitable and inclusive college community,” said Trustee Gardner. “As we move forward during this time of uncertainty and so much social unrest, the PACDEI will ensure that we remain on course under the common goals of working together and respecting each other. We will continue to accept, support and care for one another as equal members of society. This is happening at Hudson County Community College!”
The HCCC PACDEI programming has re-energized community involvement, and coalitions of Hudson County African American and Latino ministers are now partnering with PACDEI to improve access to information, assist in promoting educational attainment and upward social and economic mobility for area residents, and bring healing by providing platforms for the community to express their thinking, passion and dedication on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Recently, Dr. Reber, Mr. Pujols and Ms. Williams presented at a conference at New Jersey City University (NJCU), and PACDEI was recently selected to serve as an Experiential Learning Site for the NJCU Community College Leadership Doctoral Program. In addition, the nationally acclaimed student success network, Achieving the Dream (ATD), has asked HCCC PACDEI to share its work with other ATD member colleges.
“I am so proud of the work Hudson County Community College is doing in the areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” HCCC Board of Trustees Vice Chair Lee stated. “It is critically important, particularly in light of these most recent incidents of racial injustice against the backdrop of COVID-19, that we find a way to wrap our arms around those among us most acutely affected by these issues and find a collective path forward. HCCC is proving to be a guiding light in this onward march.”
PACDEI was at the heart of the recent HCCC Annual Fall Convocation, which was themed, “Diversity Matters: Taking Action.” The keynote speaker at the event was Doug Melville, Chief Diversity Officer of TBWA\North America, named one of the world’s most innovative companies in 2019 and 2020 by Fast Company. Mr. Melville works with the North American collective of agencies on diversity efforts across talent, culture, and creative vendor relationships.
“As a community, we will find a way forward. We will continue to live and breathe the values of human dignity and respect as we learn, teach and work,” President Reber said. “Our graduates are our future, and they embody these values and a commitment to community service. Through our HCCC mission and the people of our community, we will contribute to positive change and a brighter future.”
Additional information on HCCC PACDEI may be obtained by emailing PACDEI@hccc.edu.