American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
January-March 2017
Volume 
45
Issue 
1

Community Colleges: Great Places to Start and Great Places to Stay

Rebecca Romo, Santa Monica College

Rebecca Romo (in the center with the striped sweater)
with her Latinas/os in Contemporary Society class.

“We all need to start somewhere,” and “Start there, and then move on,” are two of the statements that were said to me after telling colleagues at the ASA that I was hired full-time at Santa Monica College, a public community college located in Santa Monica, California. These statements speak to the subordination and lack of respect that community college professors sometimes encounter in our profession. Not only is community college a great place to start, it is also a great place to stay and to grow professionally. I chose to teach at the community college level because these institutions prioritize students, because they are family-friendly, and because of the kinds of students that I teach. 

 

When I was on the job market a few years ago, I applied to positions at R-1s, R-2s, liberal arts, and community colleges. While on the job market, I felt that I was prepared to work anywhere. After all, I was an ASA Minority Fellow, I had published a peer reviewed article, I had a few articles under review, a book contract with an academic press, and teaching and campus organizing experience. I went to a couple on-campus interviews, but I began hoping that I would be chosen by the community college jobs most of all.

Teaching at Pasadena City College part-time, I fell in admiration with the student-centered culture of the community college. At a community college we have a very clear tenure plan and we are evaluated on teaching and service, and not on research and publications. Despite this, many community college professors that I know continue to write, publish, make documentary films, teach abroad, and more.

Family and Teaching Are Celebrated

As a parent, community college is the most family-friendly academic environment that I have experienced. Aside from the health and retirement benefits, having children and a family is supported, celebrated, and talked about. There is not one day that I am on campus where my colleagues and I do not share with one another about our families and kids in conversation.

In addition, the culture of the community college emphasizes the development of teaching as a skill. At my college we have a Center for Teaching Excellence, which offers a summer teaching institute, workshops, reading groups, online trainings, and speakers dedicated to developing skilled teachers. We emphasize equity in our teaching, programming, mission, and internal funding opportunities. For instance, my colleague and I were awarded a grant to develop a “Sociology Coaching Program” at our campus to decrease the equity gap in our Introduction to Sociology courses, where white students have an 83 percent pass rate compared with our black (51% pass rate) and Latinx students (62% pass rate).

Teaching Diverse Populations

One of the things that I appreciate about my college in particular is the emphasis on black-brown solidarity. There are courses designated for students from our Black Collegians and Adelante programs. I teach an Introduction to Sociology course designated for students in these two programs where I center the voices of black and brown students in the classroom and in the curriculum. In addition to these innovative strategies to addressing equity, community colleges may offer internal funding opportunities to travel to conferences and to develop unique programs for students. For example, this year I was awarded funding to take sociology students to the Pacific Sociological Association.

The student body is why I most love teaching at the community college.  Given that I spend the large majority of my workday in the classroom, I wanted to teach students that I can relate to. I was a first-generation college student, my parents are immigrants from Mexico, and I grew up low-income. I was a teenage single mother and I was on welfare and food stamps during my undergraduate years. Many of my students are the first in their families to attend college and they come from different racial/ethnic, class, gender, sexuality, ability and age groups. My college draws students from the greater Los Angeles area, and the majority of our sociology students are Latinx (44%). We have thousands of international students from over 100 countries, veteran students, DACA students, undocumented, and mixed-status students, and approximately 400 homeless students attend my campus. At the community college, students vary in the level of academic preparedness. The students I teach range from not having a high school diploma to already having earned a BA degree, and everything in-between. The diversity in the classroom presents fun and interesting pedagogical challenges, and each class taught is never the same as the last. I have students that work two jobs and are parents, who have experienced their family members being incarcerated and murdered by the police, and parents that have spent time in migrant detention centers. My students inspire me every day because of their determination in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

Social Minded Students

As faculty we often advise student clubs, which allows us the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with students and to do sociology in action on campus and in the community. One student club that I advise, the “Progressive Student Union,” evolved out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. The students in this club organized voter registrations, canvassing, phone banking, and informational talks about the California ballot. Another club I advise is the “Homegirl and Homeboy Club,” which is modeled after the spirit of the non-profit Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. This club serves as a support group for formerly incarcerated, formerly gang-affiliated students that may be struggling with alcohol/drug related issues.

Some of my students enrolled in the college are involved with local, state, and national organizations advocating for civil and human rights. Some of my best students have worked with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the Youth Justice Coalition, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley Immigrant Youth Coalition, and the Fight for $15. Witnessing students connect their activism and classroom education is both rewarding and meaningful. In this Trump-era, it has been inspiring to see the students build together and show solidarity in the face of Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and attacks on our undocumented and LGBTQ community. My student groups have worked together with other groups on our campus — such as the Muslim Student Association, Gender Sexuality Alliance, Black Collegians, Eco Action Club, DREAMers and allies — to bring immigration attorneys to our campus, discuss Muslim, environmental, LGBTQ, reproductive justice issues, and to push for a sanctuary campus.

These are just some of the reasons that teaching at the community college is not just a place to start, but a place to stay. The community college is where one can have a robust career teaching sociology and dedicating their lives to shaping, influencing, and witnessing how amazing community college students are.