The Santa Monica College Board of Trustees has delayed discussions relating to campus equity after a recent study session triggered strong emotional reactions from officials.
At the special study session held in September, staff, students and college stakeholders gathered to discuss aspects of policy and leadership that are key to promoting equity and guided pathways reforms. The college’s greatest challenges, campus culture and the equity efforts that are already underway at SMC were other important topics that arose during the four-hour discussion.
Black Collegians Program lead Sherri Bradford said when you look at the hours of discussion previously presented, it’s plain to see there has been work put forward that looks to help SMC become a more equitable college.
“But we have to be realistic and honest about where we are right now,” she said.
Bradford asked the audience to remember during her presentation that the college does a lot of things well but, by the same token, there are so many things the college needs to fix.
“We, like the rest of America, are a racist institution. We have navigated in a system of white supremacy. And that is challenging even for me to say — it is difficult for me to say,” Bradford said. “But if we are going to try and attack the things that we know are affecting our students — that are affecting the employees of the college — then we have to name them and address it.”
Presenters later added the college has got to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable because the data shows SMC’s Black and Latinx students don’t feel the same sense of belonging at the college.
“We’re making progress but we haven’t gotten to the point where everybody is,” Academic Senate President Nate Donahue said, before staff shared a survey question detailing 49% of Black students felt feelings of frustration or anger towards the college.
Trustee Margaret Quiñones-Perez said shortly after Donahue and Bradford’s presentation that what she heard only proved that institutional racism has not disappeared from the college campus.
“And it will never go away until we as a society have totally eradicated the ability to judge somebody on the color of their skin,” she said.
“I don’t see that happening in our lifetime,” Quiñones-Perez added as she refuted an earlier characterization that the institution was fundamentally racist.
“I agree that the college has racist institutions… but I’m not going to sit here and say that Santa Monica College is a racist institution. That is not true! That there are racist behaviors, that there are racist processes — I’ll own that,” Quiñones-Perez said. “But I’ve also seen certain departments, even some of the departments of color that will favor certain people if (they’re) their own race and ignore the others,” like the rest of the groups don’t matter.
“You want to talk about deep hurt, that’s a mortal wound,” Quiñones-Perez said, adding: “If you think that white guilt is gonna help us fight racism in this country — you’re wrong.”
Fellow Trustee Barry Snell said prior to Quiñones-Perez’s speech that the board should take the thoughts that were presented and spend some time really thinking about what the college’s goals and priorities are.
The board agreed to defer a decision about its goals and priorities until a later meeting so a discussion about equity returned to the agenda for the Board’s Oct. 6 meeting, but no action was taken then either.
Snell mentioned in October that he was truly impressed with what he witnessed during the special study session, which he described as an incredibly difficult workshop.
“Santa Monica College is not immune from systemic racism and the words that we heard in our workshop are true,” he said, noting his commitment to the college, its community and the city of Santa Monica. As a result, “I was really troubled by Trustee Quiñones-Perez’s comments; I felt they were divisive; There was no basis for some of it,” and there was a sense that there wasn’t an open discussion, which Snell said he hopes to have during its next workshop.