Maddie Ashcraft, Photographer
Pierce College sponsors one employee from each campus per year to attend the Social Justice Learning Institute through Bellevue College, which focuses on building leadership skills and bridging the equity gap.
The program is attended by fifteen to twenty faculty and staff of community colleges across Washington each year.
Participants begin the program with an initial three-day workshop retreat, with continual professional development within the program throughout the year.
Fitzgerald Carter, Program Manager for Facilities and Operations for the Puyallup campus, attended the program during its inception at Pierce during the 2014-2015 school year. While all other attendees since are required to apply for the spot to join the program, Carter was selected by Pierce.
As a program manager, Carter believes this training has led him to be a sounding board for staff members and students to speak up about their ideas and struggles. Coming back from the SJLI, Carter wanted to give back to Pierce, guiding them closer to equity for staff and students. Carter believes the solution is working with specific areas of Pierce.
“My vision is to work with individual departments, identifying their biases,” Carter said.
Carter wants to see justice for all students, and hopes that staff members will continue to show genuine kindness to those who attend Pierce. He explains that the way one views others is the key.
“My background is in hospitality. Our students are our guests,” Carter said.
Ultimately, students need to know that they are valued for who they are. “(SJLI) has taught me to be yourself, be confident,” Carter said. “Help those who need help. Be a voice for those who need to be heard.”
Cynthia DePoe, Program Specialist for Veteran Services, attended SJLI as the second cohort participant for Pierce Puyallup in 2015-2016.
Unlike Carter, DePoe had to apply to attend. DePoe built deep relationships through SJLI, and continues to connect with those in her cohort.
“You can bounce ideas off each other for what you are trying to do at your college,” DePoe said of the connections she gained through SJLI.
With Native American heritage, DePoe sees a lack of Native American influence at Pierce, and hopes to bring more diversity to the campus.
DePoe works to connect more students from Chief Leschi High School to the Running Start program, and attends the Indian Education group for the Puyallup School District, to promote Pierce to students and parents.
While DePoe focuses on bridging the gap of equity for minority students, she admits it can be difficult as a staff member at Pierce.
“It’s good knowing that there is other people out there who are struggling in the college system themselves,” DePoe said. “So, you have someone to contact and reach out to if you are having problems. We do help each other.”
Joey Adams, IT specialist at Pierce Puyallup, attended SJLI with the 2016-2017 cohort. Adams said the program guided him to “find his niche” within the community.
While Adams has been involved with social justice through interactions as a child and his military experience, the SJLI program gave him more opportunities to become connected at Pierce and build leadership skills in order to promote social justice. Adams is now a committee planning leader for the Faculty and Staff of Color Conference, and he also advises students attending the Students of Color Conference. Adams believes there is still more to do, especially related to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion programs on campus.
Continuing his work with Pierce, Adams believes the SJLI program greatly affected his leadership skills and broadened his networking opportunities. Adams uses the foundation of SJLI to build up Pierce as EDI becomes more prominent on campus.
“I’m excited for the potential that Pierce has to get a grasp of (EDI),” Adams said. “We have the best environment for success for EDI.”
Adams believes that the Puyallup area is changing, and he hopes programs like the SJLI will encourage staff and students to become more educated about EDI issues and standpoints. “If we continue to educate people and push the idea of learning from one another, we have a lot of potential to grow with each other as a community,” Adams said.
Kaytie Proff, a student success coach, is the most recent member of the SJLI program, graduating this June with the 2017-2018 cohort. Proff was encouraged to apply by Blakeney Bernadette, a fellow success coach at the Fort Steilacoom campus.
Proff especially valued the ability to gain greater understanding about other identities and the cultural responses involved, along with the professional development workshops. Proff saw the SJLI program as helpful in building connections between other community college staff, relationships that will last a lifetime.
“You have these really deep connections and conversations about what you do for the college and what you do for students,” Proff said. “That’s a type of relationship that you can’t really replicate.”
Proff attended Pierce as a student less than ten years earlier, and worked in the Health Education Center during that time. While there is still much work to be done regarding EDI, Proff believes it is a much better place then when she attended as a student.
“We have come a long way of understanding what we don’t know, and trying to be more mindful and more aware,” Proff said.
While still completing SJLI for her cohort, Proff already works with EDI as a student success coach, and finds the transition between the two programs very natural. She hopes to influence more staff to join EDI work for the benefit of the entire campus.
“We are trying to be more supportive and be more open-minded. That’s the first step,” Proff said.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost