LIVERMORE — With all the concerns about social inequity in general, one college in the East Bay is looking to become a model for racial diversity by being a magnet for students of color.
And the school's president isn't waiting for that to happen by accident.
"Today is Black Family Day here at Las Positas College. First time we've done it," said school President Dr. Dyrell Foster. "It really ties into our educational master plan, which is really to be the destination campus for Black students and other students of color here in the Tri-Valley."
It's an ambitious goal to turn a college that is predominantly white, located in the East Bay suburbs of Livermore, into the school of choice for Black students.
"African American students represent about four percent of our student population here," said Dr. Foster. "And so, our goal is to really lift all boats, right. And really make sure that every student that attends Las Positas College is successful. So, we're going to put the time, the resources and the energy to help those students that need it more."
What they "need" more than anything is a sense of confidence, an understanding that they're as capable as anyone else on campus. But Student Services Vice President Dr. Jeanne Wilson said that can be tough when students enter college feeling like outsiders.
"And so, you have this sense sometimes of 'imposter syndrome' where you can feel like, 'Um, maybe I don't belong here.' But you do, and so, events like this help us to be able to surround students with love," she said.
Earlier this year, the school ranking service "Intelligent" named Las Positas as the top-ranked community college in California and number sixth in the nation, as a whole.
Still, only about 500 of the 7,000 students enrolled there are African American. At a roundtable discussion, students and parents evaluated the current state of education.
Parent Sandra James, who grew up in the segregated South, said her Black teachers demanded a high level of excellence from their African American students. But she said the approach back then seemed more human than what is happening today.
"The focus is so heavily driven on the academics and the competitive nature," she said. "So, the student loses the connection with other students, even the connections with teachers."
And there isn't a lot of Black representation in the teacher ranks, as well. T. Gertrude Jenkins, who heads up the college's "African American Scholars Project," said that was actually an unintended consequence of school desegregation in the 1970s.
"When schools integrated, you had Black students going into integrated spaces, but nobody wanted Black teachers. Nobody wanted Black school leaders," said Jenkins. "So, what happened to those people, they lost their jobs. So, what used to be the highest number of Black professionals were educators at one point, pre-integration, that changed afterward."
With few Black students and even fewer teachers, it's no wonder some can end up feeling alone. But Jujaun Mitchell found his sense of community with his teammates on the school's basketball team.
"I did feel kind of isolated in my first year coming here, but the basketball team, they did make me feel like I was at home," said Mitchell. "So, it really wasn't a problem from day one. We were all good; we clicked."
That's what Las Positas is trying to do for everyone — create a feeling of camaraderie so students of color from all over the East Bay will see it as a welcoming place