The Connecticut State College and University system recently approved a new course, College and Career Success 101, that will be mandated for all students in the proposed new Connecticut State Community College. The justification was that “…success in college requires students to model new behaviors that are specific to the culture of higher education….It is important to note that collegiate expectations of ‘proper’ behavior are rooted in White middle-class norms.”
This justification contradicts everything that has been learned about inclusion and diversity. It was attributed to Laura Rendόn and others, (Rendόn et. al., 2000). It is, in effect, dumbing down diversity in the name of college success. The course justification goes on to state “thus, they can be especially difficult to perform for students who did not grow up in that culture or have family members who attended college.” (See the June 5 Board of Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee Agenda Page 112.)
The above assertion implies that the institutionalized racism inherent in higher education leaves minority students no choice but to disavow their history and their racial identities instead of celebrating them so they can adapt to and then adopt the whiteness of academia in order to be successful.
Because we knew of the highly respected scholarship and research work of Laura Rendόn on Validation Theory, it was obvious that her work was misappropriated and quoted erroneously. To clear her name of something inaccurately attributed to her, we reached out to ask her if she would like to respond.
Laura Rendόn and her collaborator, Amaury Nora, responded as follows:
STATEMENT ON COLLEGE AND CAREER SUCCESS 101 COURSE, CONNECTICUT STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE
This statement is a response to a new course requirement, College and Career Success 101, in the Connecticut State Community College as approved by the Board of Regents. We read the Viewpoints of 11 Connecticut community college educators (June 23, 2020), and wish to clarify our perspectives, which were employed as part of the justification for this course.
The 11 educators note that the justification the Board of Regents uses for addressing achievement gaps is that students from low-performing institutions must “model new behaviors that are specific to the culture of higher education.” This recommendation is apparently associated with a quoted statement in our book chapter. The specific quote is that “proper behaviors[s] are rooted in White, middle-class norms.” Actually, this statement does not appear in our chapter, and we do not advocate that underserved students adopt the norms of privileged White students.
In fact, the chapter’s focus is to critique and disrupt erroneous assumptions that have worked against underserved student populations, and one of the false narratives is that to succeed students must assimilate and emulate White students’ norms and behaviors. We believe this false narrative is associated with a cultural deficit model which presumes that students of color are inferior, while White students are superior. Institutions must be conscious of the fact that the life experience of low-income students of color has been shaped by systemic inequities related to egregious income, health, and schooling inequalities.
There are many examples of low-income students who have earned college degrees against the odds, but for the most part, they succeeded with their own strengths, validation from significant others, and resources and support from institutions, families and communities. We know of no study which concludes that the only way students of color can succeed is to emulate the norms and behaviors of White students. This might have been an assumption made by assimilationist theorists in the 1950s, but today we have better research which proves otherwise.
A pivotal point of our chapter is that higher education must now make transformative changes to respond to underserved students who do not fit White, middle-class norms. This calls for attention to, for example, hiring diverse faculty and staff, developing an inclusive curriculum, working with an equity mindset, acknowledging and leveraging student assets, addressing systemic inequality, re-designing foundational courses and providing academic and social support programming. We believe that all of these kinds of programmatic initiatives can foster a sense of belonging and student success.
Conceptually speaking, the college success course is a step in the right direction. However, we believe that the implementation of the course also merits attention, especially if the course is to fulfill a diversity requirement. Specifically, faculty and staff will need to work with an asset-based framework and learn to design anti-racist education related to equity, justice, and inclusion. They should also learn to identify and to leverage student strengths, engage students in culturally-validating deep learning experiences and adopt relationship-centered mentoring and advising approaches to support underserved students. Overall, we believe that the intended purpose of the College and Career Success 101 can be fulfilled with a culturally-sensitive implementation approach which considers the findings of contemporary, anti-deficit student retention research.
We trust that this statement clarifies the intent of our chapter and that it assists educators who seek to improve the success of underserved student populations.”
If it wasn’t enough that the justification for this course misrepresented statements and research attributed to respected members of academia, three CSCU individuals went on to write an op-ed that appeared in the CT Mirror on July 7, 2020 where they state that this new Connecticut State Community College is going to eliminate barriers to success for many Black and Latinx students.
They inexplicably note that community colleges’ open admissions policy allows students of all backgrounds, including first generation and under-served students, to attend. They go on to write that these students suffer unfair disadvantages once they arrive on campus because they have to adjust to unfamiliar norms and expectations, but they give no explanation as to how this will be addressed.
Their final statement proclaims, “This is our promise to Black and Latinx students. Connecticut State Community College is being built for you. A college designed for your success. A college that will serve to change Connecticut generation by generation.”
Again, there is no suggestion as to how this success will be accomplished. So, one can only guess that they will begin by teaching these students about “white middle-class norms” in the Career and College Success 101 course required for all.
Stephen Adair, Central Connecticut State University; Lois Aimé, Norwalk Community College; Francis Coan, Tunxis Community College; Lauren Doninger, Gateway Community College; Seth Freeman, Capital Community College; Diba Khan-Bureau, Three Rivers Community College; Estela Lopez, retired Provost, Connecticut State Colleges & Universities; Lillian Maisfehlt, Gateway Community College; Eric Maroney, Gateway Community College; Ron Picard, Naugatuck Valley Community College; Colena Sesanker, Gateway Community College