ACCT Leadership Congress Kicks Off with Call to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

October 14, 2021

SAN DIEGO, October 14 — For the first time in two years, more than 1,000 community college leaders convened in person at the ACCT Leadership Congress in San Diego, with an emphasis on ensuring that institutions move beyond the pandemic by intentionally focusing on the success of all students, including those who have been historically underrepresented—or outright excluded—from higher education.

“It’s been 24 months since we’ve been together,” ACCT Board Chair David Mathis, trustee at Mohawk Valley Community College in New York, said during Wednesday’s opening session. “I know the past year and a half has been a tremendous challenge for all of us, and I’m proud of how we’ve been able to continue serving our students and colleges during this difficult time.”

Following the Congress theme of “Community Colleges Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” keynote speaker Dr. William B. Harvey stressed the importance of addressing the inequities in how American history is presented as a way to support a more inclusive future.

“Our community colleges should be models for the communities in which they happen to be located,” said Harvey, who as rector of Danubius University in Romania is the first African American to lead a European institution of higher education.

Harvey, who has taught at U.S. institutions that would not accept him as a student during the segregationist era, pointed to ACCT’s initiatives supporting rural and tribal colleges and the Virginia community college system’s efforts to achieve “total equity” as examples of community college efforts that can galvanize greater change. “Other social institutions and other private institutions follow our lead,” Harvey told Congress attendees. “We’re not just talking about this, we’re doing it, and we want you to follow so our society can be more equitable for everybody.”

“I think community colleges are truly a vehicle and vessel for us to bring about the things we’re talking about,” Mathis added. “We have challenges, but [community colleges] are the vehicle for confronting all the issues that are splitting our country apart, and we will be there for all Americans.”

Daisy Gonzales, acting chancellor of California Community Colleges, urged community college leaders to advocate for tuition-free community college to be included in the ongoing deliberations involving the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better infrastructure proposal.

“We know that community colleges are the economic engines of this country,” she said. “And we also know during the pandemic, all of you have been on the front lines of fighting poverty…Community college students need the America’s College Promise today. Their dreams are the future of this country.”

During Wednesday's opening session, ACCT President & CEO J. Noah Brown said that holding the 52nd annual ACCT Leadership Congress in person was particularly significant to him. "We weren't sure this was going to happen. Now, it's incredibly exciting," said Brown, who is retiring after a quarter century of leading the Association. "I'm so glad I was able to get up on stage and talk directly to all of you...I do want you to know how much I appreciate all of you and how much I have gratitude for all the support you have given me and the Association for 25 years."

The ACCT Leadership Congress began yesterday with educational academies for community college board members, and the conference continues through Friday with more than 100 workshops and sessions through Saturday, October 16.

For more information, visit http://congress.acct.org. Search #ACCT2021 on Twitter for more from the event.