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Two years in the making, ACC trustees hear details about role of new director of diversity, inclusion, and equity

Alamance Community College’s new director of Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion, Josefvon Jones, told ACC’s trustees during their latest meeting that, contrary to popular belief, his role at the community college is about “so much more than race” – it’s about creating a place where everyone feels welcome.

ACC’s trustees heard for the first time earlier this month about Jones’ role at ACC since they created the position in 2020 and Jones was hired to lead ACC’s new office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the summer of 2021.

The DEI director’s position at the local community college represents part of a broader trend that ramped up in 2020 to enhance diversity in K-12 public schools, colleges, and universities.

Jones holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Shaw University and a master’s degree in human services counseling from Liberty University.  He had previously worked 10 years at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, where he served as a senior success advisor, among other positions, and helped lead a minority male mentoring program that the North Carolina Community Colleges System (NCCCS) launched years ago to bridge the racial achievement gap at the 58 community colleges.

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“A few people, when they hear ‘diversity,’ they feel uncomfortable because they default to race,” Jones acknowledged to the trustees.  “It’s so much more than race.  We want to make sure that, while race is an important piece, it’s not the [only] piece.  Pretty much everything that makes us different as individuals – that’s diversity.”

As the community college’s DEI director, Jones is responsible for:  Creating a strategic DEI plan for the community college; working to improve academic success rates; and “identifying areas where the college is lacking in multiculturalism or minority support,” according to the job description that ACC developed when the position was created in 2020.

Jones presented his long range plan to enhance diversity and inclusion at the college to ACC’s trustees earlier this month.   He and other ACC officials have established an internal committee made up of faculty, and students who meet monthly to study and discuss how the college can better enhance the education experience of students; improve communication; encourage leadership opportunities; and challenge stereotypes, Jones told the trustees.  The committee, he said, is working to identify and implement ways to “engage students across all four corners of Alamance County and be the number one choice [for those] who want to go to college or to come back.”

One way that the trustees can support ACC’s “Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, 2022-25,” Jones said, is by setting the standard for leadership and “bringing opportunities to the table to provide a better educational experience for all who attend.  It’s all about how we can do better for those who we are charged to support.”

Genesis of the DEI strategic plan and director’s position

ACC’s trustees agreed in the summer of 2020 to create the position that Jones currently holds, in part at the suggestion of trustee Tony Foriest, a retired state senator who represented Alamance County in the General Assembly.

Foriest, who is black, had asked ACC president Dr. Algie Gatewood at a meeting in June 2020 to look at how he might expand his goals for the upcoming academic year to include “some kind of discussion about race relations [in light of] what’s going on in the country.”  Foriest appeared to have been referring at the time to the May 2020 murder of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests it set off.

Gatewood told Foriest, “What you have done is called my hand.  It was my plan to [collect] information around where I think the college is and may be able to go around race relations and making sure people are treated fairly. This is a discussion we must have.”

Foriest agreed during that conversation but said the board shouldn’t make any hasty decisions.

ACC’s president elaborated on his thought process in an interview with The Alamance News at the time.  “It’s the right thing to do all that we possibly can to [help students be academically successful], and two, it’s an economic investment,” Gatewood told the newspaper in June 2020.  “Do we want a positive return on that investment? I say we do.  It’s [about] the economic stability of our county.  If we do not prepare a workforce with the education and the skills that are needed for 21st Century jobs we are not keeping our end of the deal and [what our mission and goals speak to].  We have an obligation to everyone to do those things.  I see it as something that will transpire in earnest but over time.”

The pay for the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) director at ACC ranges from $68,373 to $75,582, based on the job listing that the local community college advertised in 2020 through the N.C. Community Colleges System office.

In a follow-up interview with The Alamance News, Gatewood reiterated his earlier emphasis on the potential economic return for Alamance County. “Race is certainly part of it, yes,” he acknowledged, referring to ACC’s “Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, 2022-25” that Jones presented to the trustees.

“But we need to be cognizant of the education and training needs of underserved populations in the county,” Gatewood told the newspaper.  “We are much, much better if we get as many people trained for 21st century jobs as we can and support their enrollment, retention, and success. It is as much about the economic viability of our county [as it is about the academic success of ACC’s students].

“We need to give people what they need to get living wage jobs,” Gatewood elaborated, “and part of that is having a college that’s conductive to learning and a place where [everyone] feels welcome.  One of the major impediments to students coming and staying to completion is the belief gap.”  He pointed to research which he said had consistently shown that, if people don’t believe they can succeed, they won’t.

That’s where Jones comes in, Gatewood explained.

The strategic plan the new DEI director presented to the trustees outlines four broad concepts by which ACC should go about recruiting students and craft its hiring and employment policies to promote diversity inclusion over the next three years.  Each concept includes several possible strategies to enhance and promote diversity and inclusion at ACC.

The four main concepts within the college’s DEI strategic plan include:

  • Employee diversity (Sustain a skilled, highly engaged, and diverse staff and faculty at all levels);
  • Inclusion (Develop a workplace where employees feel their talents, skills, and perspectives are valued);
  • Equal opportunity (Maintain a workplace free of discrimination with proactive resolutions to conflict);
  • Promote diversity and inclusion as a valuable business imperative (Create awareness that ACC values diversity, policies that promote diversity, and implement practices to boost enrollment and academic success for under-represented students).

The DEI strategic plan for 2022-25 is predicated on the idea of how to shape the college to have a broad  representation of races, ethnicities, gender/gender identities, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, language, culture, religious affiliation, age, disability, and political persuasions, based on the presentation that Jones made during the trustees’ latest meeting.

The NCCCS doesn’t typically publish disaggregated student achievement data – or a breakdown of academic performance by subgroups, such as race and socio-economic background.  Jones didn’t say whether the internal, staff-level committee that the DEI office at ACC has established will review any disaggregated student achievement data and report back to the trustees at a future meeting.

The DEI strategic plan that Jones has created to guide ACC in its recruitment and hiring, as well as its decisions in other areas, didn’t require a vote by the board of trustees.

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