Before the tragic killing of George Floyd in May 2020, many at GCC were well aware of the ways racism creates serious threats to the health of a college community. However, in the pre-George Floyd world, the conversation often centered on celebrating diversity or strategizing to support for students of color, rather than on the more uncomfortable task—for White people—of examining a system that largely works well for them, but often does not for non-White members of the College community.
The brutal murder of George Floyd opened many White peoples’ eyes for the first time to the disturbing reality many Black and Brown people in our country must endure daily, fearing for their lives. GCC Sociologist and expert on social justice education Linda McCarthy, who is white, says “It’s been heartening and inspiring to see that people have finally started to pay attention. It is exciting to see how many people reacted this time. Finally, things aligned to get White people to notice in a way that most hadn’t up until now.”
Among the many anti-racism projects at GCC that predate the George Floyd tragedy are: the establishment of the GCC Diversity Standing Committee co-chaired by Alyssa Arnell and Christine Monahan; the Equity and Diversity Center on campus run by Lillian
Ruiz; and The Mountain Scholars Program that promotes college enrollment and success for students of color. GCC’s Racial Equity & Justice team is part of the Leading for Change Consortium through Bridgewater State University, which examines achievement gaps among BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students and assesses how GCC can address them.
Over the summer, after the protests spread across the country, a group of faculty and staff got together and created a grassroots group that they called the “Working Group on Racial Justice” to develop a substantive response on campus. The group is engaging in hard conversations such as those about the often unconscious and subtle ways even avowedly liberal and progressive White people do and say things that undermine people in Black and Brown communities.
In November, Career Services Coordinator Shannon Doran took over leadership of the group from departing Dean Leo Hwang in collaboration with Peer Tutoring Co-Coordinator Cindy Snow. Going forward, the plan is for leadership in the group to rotate two to three times a year. This ambitious ad hoc working group has decided to focus on racial justice at GCC as it concerns curriculum, hiring and other campus operations.
In order to provide the intellectual underpinning to facilitate growth, Linda McCarthy co-facilitates a campus-wide book group with Alyssa Arnell (Chair of the History Department) and Christine Monahan (Co-Chair of the English Department). The group is currently reading From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education.
Even a well-intentioned community like that of GCC that does an excellent job of supporting and educating students has much work to do and knows it is only at the beginning of a journey. GCC President Yves has set a goal: “We must continue prioritizing racial equity as part of our curricula, as a major area for improving academic and non-academic outcomes, and as an area where we all are willing to experience some discomfort.”