Category Archives: guest post

Intent vs. Impact: Educational Access and Opportunity

Guest post by Shannon Ellis

I need your help.

Gwen has offered me this platform to speak up in defense of a post-high school education, especially for Black students. Right now, increasing numbers of students of all colors (and their parents) are being sold on the idea that education just isn’t worth the time and money.

They would be wrong.

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article by Oyin Adedoyingave us all the dismal report. “Black enrollment grew from 282,000 in 1966 to more than 2.5 million in 2010 but from 2010 to 2020, as overall enrollments fell, the number of Black students fell even more sharply, to 1.9 million.” 

Adedoyin cites a number of very valid reasons for this decline including the rising cost of college, skepticism about the value of a degree, economic hardship in many Black communities, and Black students not feeling welcome on campuses. I wish this were not true but on any given day at predominantly white institutions (PWI) this is the experience of many of our Black students.

Many of us who are White work to understand the experience of isolation and even hate that a Black student may experience at PWIs. I work with colleagues in the field of student services who face the truths of such experiences and embrace the mission to create a more welcoming and supportive climate for Black students and others who have been historically marginalized, excluded, and discriminated against. I am not alone. Staff and faculty of all colors with vast life experiences stand ready to work with Black scholars to make the leap into a PWI classroom, Western curriculum, loan debt, and a predominantly White surrounding community.

It is no wonder that historically Black colleges and universities are seeing record numbers of applicants in the midst of decline everywhere else. Yet we know that this is not an option for many Black students who want or need encouragement to pursue a post-high school skill and degree. PWIs struggle, have successes, hire more Black faculty and staff, engage in successful and unsuccessful recruitment and retention efforts, and continue to move forward even with setbacks. PWIs strive to be better places for Black students who want to pursue a vocational, community college, or university degree.

As institutions find effective ways to market themselves to Black communities, we need to acknowledge the realities many Black students experience. We need to assure Black students and their families that we mean it when we say we will put the time and money into change. Many of us commit to be leaders and allies, but no one more than Black students stands to suffer lifelong setbacks if we do not succeed. Put in a more positive way, compared with other historically excluded groups of people, Black students stand to gain more from American higher education in economic gains, generational wealth, career advancement, and health. Maybe even more than White students.

While attending a college or university is not essential for all, providing the opportunity for everyone to realize their potential is. Do you have a relative, coworker, neighbor that someone talked out of pursuing a post-high school vocational program or community college path or four-year degree? Maybe you know someone who expressed an interest in pursuing an educational program after high school but also expressed a lack of confidence. Well-meaning people often believe they are doing the right thing by affirming that self-doubt instead of working through the many ways to address each worry (money?) and set back (tutoring?). In my experience, it is often a loving and well-meaning friend or relative who affirms the fear, uncertainty, and lack of confidence that often surfaces when someone talks about “going to college.” If we think we are saving someone from debt or racism or frustration or even physical and mental harm, let’s stop.  We are not.

College graduates earn a million more dollars over a lifetime than those without a degree. Taking on loan debt is only a mistake if you allow yourself to drop out with no degree and increased earning power with which to repay the debt. View it as an investment and exhaust every scholarship application easily found online and in the brains of professionals in an institution’s financial aid office. Sticking with a full-time course schedule designed to get a scholar out in two or four years saves money in the long run (tuition goes up every single year) and gets a student out into the workforce with a salary and benefits.   Remember, we are playing the long game here – one for a lifetime.

Who do you know who could use that nudge, affirmation, and encouragement to sign up for a class? Did you support someone’s decision to abandon such a step in their life? Would now be a good time to go back and offer guidance and support? Maybe it’s you who told yourself that higher education wasn’t for you. Can I give you that gentle push to take classes, apply for financial aid, and connect with someone in the campus multicultural center?

Let’s be unrelenting in our campaign to create access and opportunity for Black students in the world of higher education. Regardless of a student’s academic record, there is an available community college, vocational program, or four-year school. The payoffs occur over decades of career advancement and earnings that are also associated with better health and longer lives.  At any age, Black students should create a lifetime of opportunities through education, so no door is closed.

Shannon Ellis is Vice President for Student Services at the University of Nevada, Reno. Ellis has served as president of NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and has published numerous articles and chapters in professional journals and books. Her ongoing research focuses on organizational transformation and the role of student services in tomorrow’s college and university.

Faith Journey: Who Tells Your Story

Guest blog by Florence Dungy

I was very pleased when Gwen asked me to write a piece on any subject that I wanted for her blog….

When I was younger, I thought life was basically random. I grew up in southern Illinois in Carmi, located on the Little Wabash River. The population was around 5,000 people.

Carmi was my dad’s hometown. He was born in 1914 and grew up attending a segregated school and the segregated Mitchell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. My mom met my dad when she came to Carmi to visit her uncle who lived in nearby Maunie. My parents married in 1943.

My mother had been born in 1919 and raised in Whiteville, in western Tennessee. She also attended segregated schools and was raised in the Bartlett Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church. The name was changed to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1954.

My brother Charles and I were both born in St. Louis, Missouri—he in 1944 and I in 1947. Our family moved back to Carmi in December 1947.

There were very few Black people in Carmi. Charles would integrate Washington School by going to the first grade at age 6. My mom took Charles to school on the first day. When she went back to pick him up, she said she met him already on the way home, happy and skipping down the street. After Charles passed away, several of his classmates wrote me that they remembered meeting him in the first grade.

Growing up, Charles was much more self-assured than I was. He excelled in math and science and played basketball. He was outgoing and everybody liked him. I was concerned with being nice and polite and modest. I liked reading and writing and English.

Our lives in Carmi were integrated in every way except for church. This was a time when most people went to church, which at that time was largely identified as mainline Protestant denominations. I do remember going to Vacation Bible School, concerts, and programs at the White churches, but on Sunday we went to Mitchell Chapel AME Church.

While the theme of the Civil Rights Movement was “We Shall Overcome,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s oft-repeated observation in 1963 that 11:00 Sunday morning was “the most segregated hour in this nation” was certainly the reality in Carmi.

Mitchell Chapel was located a block off Main Street across the river in East Carmi. The church must have had a guardian angel, for in today’s world it would certainly be condemned as a fire and safety hazard. The church leaned to one side, there was only one entrance, and there was neither running water nor a bathroom. We had an old-fashioned coal stove and one of the men who lived across from the church would go early and make a fire when it was cold.

Not all of the Black people in Carmi attended the church, but they would come to funerals and also to fundraisers. There were probably 15 to 20 of us attending Sunday services, for which I remember getting dressed up and having new outfits for Christmas and Easter programs. We became part of a circuit with two other AME churches in Harrisburg and Carrier Mills, Illinois.

We were pioneers. My mother was the church recording secretary, and my dad was the lay reader and taught Sunday School. On Communion Sunday, we put up the white cloth around the altar and served communion with a chalice, using the silver communion set for the grape juice and wafers.

I remember the Sunday the minister “opened the doors of the church” and Charles walked forward to the altar to join. I followed him, joining the church because he did. Charles was in high school, and I was in junior high. Everybody cried.

We never invited any classmates to the church, and I am sure most people did not know the church existed because of the isolated location. When classmates asked where I went to church, I remember answering in a low voice and not with any pride. I do not remember any of the ministers as being special or giving outstanding sermons. We did not have a choir, but I do remember students from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale coming to sing.

 In the late 1960s, Mitchell Chapel was allowed “to die” with the changing times. My family would be joyfully welcomed into the Carmi First United Methodist Church (FUMC). We had many friends at FUMC and would make new ones. My mom was especially happy and would become very involved in church activities.

When I graduated from Carmi Township High School in 1965, I did not have a plan beyond knowing that I would leave Carmi. I was encouraged and expected to leave by everybody including my parents and teachers. I moved to Champaign, Illinois, to stay with my aunt and attended Illinois Commercial College.

In Champaign, I attended Bethel AME Church. The church had a choir and a good minister, and I could get involved in activities of my own choosing. I knew a few people and made more friends. Most of all I knew the AME liturgy and songs having learned them at Mitchell Chapel AME. I became an usher and taught Sunday School briefly.

Charles was at Eastern Illinois University in nearby Charleston. He would come to Champaign on weekends and practiced teaching math at Champaign Central High School.

There were just a few Black students at the Commercial College. Just before graduation the man who was in charge at the school sent me to talk with the State Director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farmers Home Administration State Office in downtown Champaign. He offered me a job and I accepted. I had just turned 19 years old. The office was small and convenient to where I lived, was with the federal government, and the employees were friendly and welcoming.

I would at times have challenges working with USDA but it was very beneficial to me overall. I worked with many smart and helpful supervisors and co-workers and made life-long friends. I felt rewarded and USDA enabled me to transfer from Champaign to St. Louis and Washington, DC. I received training, took business trips, and was able to retire after 41 years of service with a pension and health insurance.

When I moved to St. Louis, I joined Centenary United Methodist Church, which was part of the Plaza Square apartment complex where I lived downtown. Centenary was an elegant and historic church. I became a greeter and served on the church board for a year and participated with other programs and activities.

Charles and Gwen had met in college at Eastern, and married in 1967, when I was 20. They now lived not too far from me in suburban St. Louis with their young son Dan, but would later move to the Washington, DC, area. When an opportunity and encouragement came for me to also move to DC three years after they did, I wanted to move but also felt uncertain about doing so.

It would have been easy to stay in St. Louis. The move would take me away from the Midwest and my family, but I also knew I could easily fly home for vacations. DC was expensive and I wondered if I would be able to find an apartment and live in a safe and nice part of the city. I prayed and knew I wanted the transfer. I found a nice and very small apartment in a pleasant part of the city with the help of a friend. Being on the bus route and convenient to the Metro, it was a short commute downtown to work.

I had read about Metropolitan AME Church before I moved to Washington. The church was convenient to where I lived. It was a beautiful and historic church with a storied history and prominent members. Walking in the church, you feel the ancestors. I would come to understand that the AME Church, which was founded in Philadelphia in 1816 by Richard Allen, was about so much more than just segregation. I joined the church and became involved in many activities including ushering, the Love and Peace Missionary Society, the food bank, and serving as a chaplain for a seniors’ club. I took my co-workers to the church on weekdays when the seniors prepared a soul-food lunch.

I came to feel I was following God’s plan for me, which had always been there from the beginning. I would never have joined Metropolitan AME if I had not been raised in Mitchell Chapel AME Church in Carmi.

Watching the Communion Sunday church service online during Covid, I would use the Mitchell Chapel chalice my mom had given me before she passed and really feel the connection between the two churches.

I had been in Washington for 12 years and Metropolitan AME was going through changes. I was ready for a change also. The Washington National Cathedral was close to where I lived in northwest Washington. I had visited and toured the Cathedral and was awed by the beauty and peacefulness of the church and the grounds.

I liked the idea of the Nation’s Church which welcomed everybody. I did not expect to become a Cathedral volunteer or think it was even possible for me. I was not an Episcopalian. I made friends and met with the volunteer coordinator to find my place. I could volunteer at the Cathedral and still keep my membership and participation at Metropolitan AME. I would start as a greeter and become an usher, a lay reader, and volunteer in the gift shop.

My last time with Charles a week before he passed away would be attending a Sunday morning service in the Cathedral. Most people did not know Charles was seriously ill. When he passed away from a rare disease, I wondered why it had been him instead of me. At the end of the play Hamilton, there is a song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” I felt I survived to tell Charles’ story. I was the only connection to Carmi and our classmates.

I belong to a grief support group and recently we discussed how we would like to be remembered. I would like to be remembered as a Christian hopefully for kindness and outreach and inclusiveness and for understanding and forgiveness for myself and others. I feel blessed for the ways in which God has led, and I pray he will continue to guide me along my journey. 

 Florence Dungy is Gwen Dungy’s sister-in law.

My Personal Hall of Fame—and Shame

Guest post by Marguerite M (Maggie) Culp

I spent some time recently chatting with doctoral students about the evolution of student affairs in the community college. The conversations reminded me of the profound impact that our profession has had on America’s community colleges since the 1960s. They also helped me realize that, in many respects, I owe my career in student affairs to an army of colleagues in colleges and universities throughout the country who served as guides, sounding boards, and—occasionally—rescuers. On the flip side, there were a few people along the way who did their best to make me feel inadequate or powerless.  Spoiler alert: their efforts failed. When I read your blog last week, I thought it might be fun to share my list of the first five people in my personal hall of fame. As you can imagine, it was challenging to settle on just five; but I met these people early in my career, and each had a profound and lasting impact on me as a person and as a professional. They deserve to go first.   

Hall of Fame: The first member of my hall of fame is the vice-chancellor of the Virginia Community College System who sat next to me in a graduate class at the University of Virginia in 1966, convinced me to consider a career in community colleges, and cheered me on when I obtained a counseling position at a large community college near Washington D.C. When my best friend was killed in Vietnam, he checked on me weekly, helped me to continue to function professionally, and set an example of courage and friendship that I will never forget. The entire time the man was helping me, he was battling cancer—and never said a word. When he finally told me, I was furious: the man was only thirty-five years of age and just beginning to make a difference in the world. When I voiced my thoughts, he looked me in the eye and said something I will never forget, “It’s not the time you have, but how you use the time that matters. I will continue to make a difference because you and many others like you will carry on the work I started. Make your life count, Maggie.”  

Ten months after I started work, the college hired a new president: a young, innovative educator from the Florida Community College System. After the president assembled his leadership team, he asked me to orient the team to the programs and services provided by student affairs professionals. He also gave me four pieces of advice that I never have forgotten.  Educate your colleagues: most community college leaders are familiar with academic affairs because they are former faculty members, but they know very little about student affairs. Focus on teaching and learning: help the leadership team understand how partnerships with student affairs have the potential to increase every student’s ability to learn and every faculty member’s teaching effectiveness. Speak with confidence: student affairs professionals may be junior partners, but they are essential junior partners.  Keep it real: use facts and figures to introduce the team to their students and to remind them to pay attention to the whole student.  That conversation alone would have earned the president a spot in my Hall of Fame; but he sealed his selection by nominating me for an NDEA Fellowship and providing numerous opportunities for me to grow professionally, acquire new skills, build positive relationships with faculty, and try out new ideas.       

While attending a series of national conventions, I kept running into an interesting guy whose brain seemed to generate an idea a minute. When I first met the man, he was a dean of students in Florida. The next year, he was a higher education professor at the University of Illinois. Seven years later, he became the executive director of the League for Innovation. Every time I met the man—whether at a formal presentation or over drinks and dinner—I left with dozens of new ideas. My commitment to educating the whole person, student-centered learning, helping students understand who they were and providing them with the tools to lead a good life and earn a good living grew out of our early conversations. Our paths continued to cross over the years. We recently collaborated on a book, and—over fifty years after our first meeting—he still managed to teach me a few things. 

At another convention in St. Louis, I suspected that the speaker was drawing conclusions not supported by data and raised my hand to ask a question. When the presenter skillfully evaded the core of my question, I raised my hand again and asked how he planned to reconcile the inconsistencies between recently published research and the conclusions he was drawing. As I finished my question and started to sit down, the gentleman seated in front of me turned around, extended his hand, and said, “I do not know who you are, but I love you.” And that is how I met the dean of students at a large community college in Texas who, over the years, offered me sage advice—even when I was not sure I needed it. He taught me how to deal with difficult people and effectively read—and navigate—complex political landscapes.   He also introduced me to dozens of student affairs professionals in colleges and universities across the country who played starring roles in my professional life.

There is no better way to close out the list of my first five hall of fame candidates than by including my trusted friend, frequent collaborator, and valued writing partner.  We rarely worked in the same time zone: Virginia, Florida, and Texas for me; Illinois, California, and Arizona for him.  But we always stayed in touch, celebrated the good times and offered support when times got tough. For over forty years, my friend never was more than a phone call away, elevated every book we wrote with his keen insights and finely-tuned prose, motivated me to look for innovative solutions to some challenging problems, and had a knack for seeing through bull****. Whenever I found myself in a professional hole—as I did in 2020 when Covid  prevented a writing team from submitting  a chapter on time for a book I was co-editing—he handed me a shovel and helped me dig my way out. In 2020, the “shovel” was agreeing to work with me to research and write a replacement chapter in three weeks.     

Hall of Shame:  The only thing I can say about the following list is that I rarely think about these people. Remembering them occasionally, however, reminds me what life was like for many women of my generation and how some of our time and talents were squandered dealing with Neanderthals, opportunists, and saboteurs—and the negative force fields that seemed to surround them.   

Neanderthals proudly lived in the past.  My first run in with a Neanderthal occurred when a university professor told me to “get laid, get married, and have children” because no reputable university would waste a seat in a doctoral program on a young, attractive female.  Then there was the dean who, when the president decided that the college would remain open four nights a week until 7:30 p.m., ordered the single women to cover the extended hours because the men had family responsibilities.  My favorite Neanderthals, however, were the deans of three institutions who interviewed me—in different years and in different states—for counseling or leadership positions. One asked if my husband approved of my working. Another wanted to know if I planned to become pregnant in the next few years. The third asked where I worshipped each Sunday, if any of my ancestors had fought for the Union, and if my hair color was natural or came from a bottle. The Neanderthal who left me speechless, however, was the female faculty member who, when I gently reminded her that Jesus would have said that slavery was immoral, cheerfully replied, “Yes, he would have said that. But Jesus would have been wrong.”

Opportunists had no principles except “me first,” liked to build their reputation at someone else’s expense, and saw work as a zero sum game where only one person could win.  Charter members of this group include every administrator, faculty member, or student affairs professional who took credit for programs that worked and publically blamed others when something went wrong as well as those who took credit for another person’s ideas or accomplishments.  Card-carrying members also included staff members who “butted” ideas to death, made supportive statements in meetings and derogatory comments in private, and were absolute artists at denigrating colleagues while insisting they were only trying to help.       

Saboteurs appeared to be honest and above board on the surface, but they had their own agendas. I will never forget the reporter for a weekly newspaper who interviewed me about a new program the college was launching for mature women. He was pleasant, asked solid questions, and then wrote a front-page article that focused almost exclusively on the fact that I wore a pants suit, came from Boston, and probably was trying to bring women’s lib to the county. There also was the seasoned counselor who casually would chat with me about a class I was teaching, or a project I was coordinating, and then go straight to the dean to outline what “the new girl” was doing wrong.  I will never forget the vice-president who, when he saw me working every day in my office during spring break, seized the opportunity to criticize my boss and my colleagues before offering me a position in academic affairs where my talents would not be exploited.

Why the Stroll Down Memory Lane? The surface explanation is that I am trying to stay sane in a world that increasingly resembles the holiday fruitcakes I receive every year: wherever you cut them, there are too many nuts! Remembering all the wonderful people I met during my career and how I managed to educate or isolate the Neanderthals, inactivate the saboteurs, and neuter the opportunists motivates me to continue to fight the good fight; to make a difference every day no matter where I am; and to trust that, in the end, the views of people who are thoughtful, kind, and decent will prevail over the views of the negative and nasty, the power-hungry egotists, the conspiracy theorists, and the data-deniers who seem determined to destroy this country.

The slightly less flattering explanation is that I was disappointed in myself last week.  Workers repairing my sprinkler system started to spout “truisms” like a college degree is worthless because the curriculum has been watered down to allow women, Latinos, and Blacks to graduate; the events of January 6th never happened;  and Putin has the right idea—take what you want. I patiently tried to help them rethink their “truisms.”  When they doubled down, I verbally eviscerated them and fired the company. Later than day, I could hear my dad telling his nineteen year old daughter that “The toughest battle you will fight in your life is not the battle to change the world, but the battle to make sure the world does not change you.”  Creating a personal hall of fame was an attempt to remember who I was, work harder to prevent the world from changing me, and not disappoint my dad.          

Marguerite M (Maggie) Culp is a higher education consultant and former faculty member, counselor, dean, and senior student affairs officer. She is co-Editor of six books including the recently published Student Success in the Community College: What Really Works?

Watering the Weeds in the Garden of Life

Guest post by Charlotte Loveless

I watched as my neighbor’s 5-year-old son was trying to help water flowers in my flower bed. As with any 5-year-old, he was at least somewhat interested in playing in the water and had to be told he was helping.

Standing nearby, his mother cautioned, “Not there, those are probably weeds.”

I responded that I believed that they were wild violets. “Sometimes we have to water the weeds to get to the flowers,” I said. “Sometimes those weeds spring forth as beautiful wildflowers.”

Later, after much contemplation, I compared the weeds to people in my life. Sometimes people come into our lives, often well-intentioned, needing to be heard, to share ideas, to get opinions, to find a safe place, and for many unknown, untold reasons Sometimes we wonder why and how, and consider that we might not have chosen them as friend. Maybe its language they use; maybe it’s a checkered past or just not my choice, but there they are.

Don’t despair. They could be that hidden hybrid plant that has been tossed around by life and not allowed sunshine and water. Maybe they have the possibility of a beautiful wildflower, given the attention of water, food, and sunshine.

Thinking of life as a garden gives us perspective, but seeking perfection in our gardens separates us from many unknown, untold stories, and the potential for many hidden, unexpected, beautiful blooms.

Sometimes we water the weeds to get to the flowers.

Don’t undervalue what appear to be weeds in the garden of your life.

Charlotte Loveless is a former coordinator of services for students with special needs. Now retired, she enjoys the arts, painting nature, and occasionally expressing thoughts in writing. She is a long-time friend of Gwen’s.