Toward a More Perfect Institution

Toward a More Perfect Institution

Reflections from California Community College Leaders on Racism, Anti-Blackness and Implicit Bias


In the wake of the most recent spate of police killings of Black Americans, the California Community Colleges are grappling with a racial reckoning as urgent as the one playing out in society at large. In June, 2020, Wheelhouse sought to understand how community college leaders experienced and led their institutions through the pain and calls to action engendered by racist acts.

Researchers from UC Davis, Cosumnes River College and the Los Angeles Community College District surveyed California Community College CEOs on how racism shows up in their institutions, the barriers to creating more equitable campuses, and their own capacity as leaders to make their colleges more racially just. CEOs’ candid testimonies and reflections provide a clear view to deep personal and institutional experiences with racism and bias in the context of one of the nation’s most diverse, accessible and equity-aspiring systems of higher education.

Download the brief here.

Toplines of the report include:

  • Community College CEOs express hope about recent momentum for conversations and actions on race and equity, but are realistic about challenges they face—both personal and institutional—in leading for change.
  • Racism, bias and anti-Blackness, in particular, show up on college campuses in many forms and venues. They are felt personally by many CEOs and manifest across their institutions, from classroom interactions and hiring processes to language, tone and microaggressions that damage student, staff, faculty and administrators’ sense of efficacy and belonging.
  • CEOs of color bring lived experiences that are of particular value in understanding and navigating conversations about race, and that may have been undervalued in the past.
  • While most CEOs feel generally well-positioned in their capacity to facilitate conversations on race and equity, some expressed uncertainty. Many revealed significant frustration over structural barriers they described as impeding progress toward more welcoming, equitable institutions.
  • CEOs are both answering and issuing calls to action to transform their institutions to tackle racism and anti-Blackness.

Our hope is that the themes extracted from the survey responses will inform and contribute to the conversations and actions necessary to improve student success, equity and the racial climate across the California Community Colleges, and thus the state and nation at large. Download the brief here.

A companion brief, Turning on a Dime, documents California community college transformation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

View other Wheelhouse research here. 

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