At NCAN, we have been filled with anger, grief, and new resolve as we've witnessed historic protests around the country in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others.
We are in the debt of so many Black leaders who have organized and sustained protests in communities across the nation, at great risk, to demand racial justice. Some of these activists are students – you may even know them. We tend to think of students as the leaders of tomorrow, but they are undoubtedly leaders in this pivotal moment as well.
As an equity-minded organization, NCAN has adopted systems change as one of our core strategies. This complements our policy work focused on making postsecondary education affordable for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. It's not nearly enough.
The last few weeks have made clear that we are just scratching the surface. We must think bigger about how to reform systems and institutions that were designed to exclude students of color and students from low-income backgrounds and deprive them of a quality education.
Police violence inhibits Black students’ ability to pursue their education at both the K-12 level and in postsecondary. We recognize that we are not experts on this issue, but there are organizations that have been advocating for anti-racist public safety reforms for a long time – organizations like The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights and The Education Trust. We’ll continue to learn from them.
Last spring, NCAN began drafting a new strategic plan to carry us through our 25th anniversary year. We realized that we had left a lot unsaid about our commitment to equity, thinking it was implied in our work. With the support of our board we revised our mission statement to be explicit about our mission to close equity gaps in postsecondary attainment.
We also accepted an invitation to join a cohort of other nonprofit organizations committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion to embark on a, likely overdue for us, journey to more fully explore how we can live our mission to reshape our staff, organization, policies, and programs to be more reflective and inclusive of today’s students and those we seek to support. You haven’t heard much about this beyond our participation, since we’ve been doing the hard work internally – opening courageous conversations, shifting the norms in our organizational culture, and working together on our diversity, equity and inclusion action plan that we will share widely later this summer. In that plan, we thought about how to be the listeners and learners we need to be to support real change to systems that have long oppressed Black students and families in particular.
We are committing to internal changes that will clarify our commitment and create policies and metrics that hold us accountable to ourselves, our members, and our communities. We are going to launch new initiatives such as affinity groups and emerging leader cohorts to help us build the field with leaders who represent the students we seek to support in their journeys to attain the education that can change the trajectory of their future. The highest hope is that our efforts can be a model to encourage all NCAN members and partners to launch their own journey to address systemic racism.
To help you advance (or continue to advance) diversity, equity, and inclusion within your own organization, we recommend the following resources. There are myriad other fantastic resources out there, but these are some that our team has found particularly helpful:
The Racism Issue of The Network’s Change Agent journal, made in partnership with Michele Norris
We want to acknowledge that it can be fraught and emotionally/mentally exhausting for staff members of color to challenge the status quo within their organization. This effort cannot fall solely upon their shoulders.
While it is crucial that we all call out systemic racism within our society and challenge the assumptions we’re operating under in our workplaces, it is also important to look inward and examine our own beliefs, blind spots, and biases (explicit and implicit) and change them. Those of us who have grown up in the United States have been socialized in a country steeped in anti-Black racism from its founding. Unlearning racist beliefs and attitudes won’t happen overnight. But we must take action now. Lives depend on it.
NCAN will continue to learn, speak, and share about these issues because college access and completion and racial equity are inseparably intertwined. There is so much more work to be done – collectively, we must continue to disrupt oppressive systems to achieve equity. Thank you for being a partner in this work.
Raymond AlQaisi, Policy and Advocacy Manager
Lindsey Barclay, Member Services Manager
Jamese Carrell, Member Services Associate
Kim Cook, Executive Director
Crystal Courtney, Office and Events Manager
Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
Colette Hadley, Director of Consulting Services
Zenia Henderson, Director of Member & Partner Engagement
MorraLee Keller, Director of Technical Assistance
Tong Lee, Database Administrator
Sara Melnick, Deputy Director
Elizabeth Morgan, Director of External Relations
Kelly Mae Ross, Communications Manager
Carm Saimbre, External Relations Associate
Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy