By Taroue Brooks
Dr. Michael A. Baston, the 7th President of Rockland Community College, is committed to inclusive excellence, educational access and programmatic diversity. In light of the health pandemic, racial reckoning and the current state of the economy, Dr. Baston has shared a roadmap for enacting impactful change at any organization when it comes to inclusion, equity and diversity.
“When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, proposed the five stages of grief and loss, she could not have foreseen the myriad of challenges 2020 would present our region, our nation, and our world. Although those who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them, in many ways, and for a multitude of reasons, we all have been impacted by the confluence of COVID-19, its resultant economic upheaval, and structural racial issues which have created a ‘perfect storm.’ Some are in the stages of denial and isolation or anger. Others are in the bargaining or depression stages. I would argue, however, that we must move to the acceptance stage,” he offers.
Dr. Baston began his career as a public interest lawyer representing various educational institutions and social justice organizations. He was a member of the inaugural class of Aspen Institute Presidential Fellows for Community College Excellence where he explored systemic issues affecting the educational access pipeline and student success. As a national Guided Pathways coach for American Association of Community Colleges, he is noted for his work with college leadership teams around the nation, helping them integrate student success initiatives to advance college completion.
“We must accept the death of outdated thinking that has, for far too long, hindered the limitless growth potential of all people, particularly given the historical realities of bigotry, prejudice, discrimination, and inequity in all forms, both institutional and individual,” he says.
How a good diversity strategy is executed…
“Working together, partners in government, educational institutions, business, industry, and community-based organizations, leaders can address inequities, promote educational opportunities and ensure economic recovery – even in a pandemic.
“A commitment to inclusive excellence, educational access, and programmatic diversity, and the alignment of work and learning is required.”
On programs at RCC that are designed to advance students in the current economy…
“RCC is at the forefront of developing skill-specific programs. In addition to two-year degrees in business, education, and nursing programs, RCC’s Career Skills Academy was established last year to offer skill-specific programs to fill ‘middle-skills’ jobs—those who require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree and which pay a family-supporting wage. Our Career Skills Academy provides work-ready programs for students of any age to gain the necessary skills for a new job or enhance an existing career. The programs are designed to teach specific skills in a concentrated time frame so students can start a new career, earning a good salary in just a few weeks or months. Classes in IT support, computer-assisted design, social media branding and marketing, professional bookkeeping, medical call center customer service, gas pipeline operations, and more are available.”
He closes, “As we navigate this perfect storm and move through today’s choppy waters with its hard realities, we must have high hopes. For our part, RCC moves forward with the steadfast goal of supporting students today to make a better life for themselves and their families tomorrow. We do so with the knowledge that we can set the standard for providing quality career options for learners of all levels and all ages. We do so with pride, knowing we are shattering the misperceptions about community colleges. We move forward into the dawning of a new era, one that can and will offer inclusive and equitable options for all.”